The San Francisco 49ers are lacking the offensive star power and optimism that surrounded the team when the NFL arrived at its prime-time television lineup in the spring.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers still has plenty of cache as one of the league’s top players, but the 49ers on the field Monday night will not be nearly as recognizable to the national TV audience.
Here are four players how have a chance to help make it an interesting matchup.
DL DeForest Buckner: Buckner is the best player on the 49ers. He got off to a roaring start to the season with 3.5 sacks in his first two games. But his production has leveled off, as he has attracted more attention from opposing offenses. Buckner has not recorded a sack in the team’s past three games.
But Buckner is still getting pressure on the quarterback. He has five quarterback hits and 13 hurries, in addition to his 3.5 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Buckner represents the 49ers’ only legitimate pass-rush threat.
The Packers will unquestionably employ a steady diet of double-teams on him Monday night, but Buckner is talented enough to still win his battles.
Rodgers is one of the all-time greats. He will hang in the pocket. He will also step outside the pocket to buy time, if needed. Rodgers loves to unleash his throwing arm to make big plays, but that requires time to allow his receivers to operate. Buckner can single-handedly make it difficult on Rodgers to execute his deep-passing wishes.
QB C.J. Beathard: It does not take much analysis or film study to arrive at a conclusion of why the 49ers lost to the previously winless Arizona Cardinals. Despite dominating the Cardinals on the stat sheet, the 49ers were 28-18 losers because of five turnovers.
Beathard, making his second start of the season, was responsible for four turnovers with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
Of course, the 49ers want Beathard to take care of the football. That is Priority No. 1. But head coach Kyle Shanahan does not want Beathard to play scared, either. Beathard has shown to be an effective passer, so he will have to take care of the football while also making some big plays against a vulnerable Green Bay defense.
WR Richie James: James had an impressive training camp after arriving on the scene as a seventh-round draft pick from Middle Tennessee State. Now, could be his time to show what he can do.
Shanahan does not expect slot receiver Trent Taylor to play. The 49ers want to give his problematic back a week of rest. But it’s possible that Pierre Garçon will not be available, which means Taylor would suit up. Regardless, Taylor will play sparingly – if at all.
That opens the door for James to see a lot of action when the 49ers go to three-receiver formations.
James was a prolific receiver during his college career. Now that he will be getting his chance, he is fully capable of proving himself to the point that it will be difficult for the 49ers to take him off the field.
FS Adrian Colbert: The second-year safety has gotten off to a rough start. The 49ers’ defense gave up one play last week, and Colbert was responsible when he failed to play his assignment. He left his position in the middle of the field, which allowed Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk to get behind him for a 75-yard touchdown pass from Josh Rosen.
Rodgers will do everything in his power to exploit Colbert in the deep middle of the field. Colbert must resist the temptation of seeing a play in front of him and leaving his spot with the hope of generating a takeaway.
After Colbert’s miscue last week, the 49ers’ defense played well. Now that the entire unit is healthy for the first time this season, there must be steady improvement from defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's unit. It all starts with limiting big plays in the passing game. And the challenge will be intense, as the 49ers go up against Rodgers and Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams in back-to-back weeks.