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After two consecutive road games, the San Francisco 49ers are set to return home to Levi's® Stadium for a Week 4 contest against the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers enter the game as one of the NFL's seven unbeaten teams at 3-0, having most recently topped the Kansas City Chiefs, 38-28, on "Monday Night Football."
Sunday's game will mark the 66th time the two storied franchises have met, and the 49ers will aim to increase their winning streak against the Packers to five games. The last meeting came in the 2013 NFL Playoffs, with San Francisco pulling out the narrow, 23-20, victory in subzero temperatures on a last-second Phil Dawson field goal.
Here are the top five things to watch on Sunday.
- Start fast
This is crucial. Being at home should have a significant impact on this, but it's not mind-blowing analysis to say that the 49ers have to avoid the 20-plus point, first-half deficit they've faced the last two weeks.
The early hole San Francisco fell in against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals got them off script as an offense and ruined any hopes for a balanced attack. Keeping the game close going into halftime will allow the 49ers to continue to feed Pierre Garçon in the second half. If the 49ers are to win this game, establishing and maintaining a successful rushing attack will go a long way in keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sideline.
- "Contain" Rodgers
The quotes were used because containing Rodgers is defined differently than containing most other quarterbacks in the NFL. Rodgers will get his. While it would be wildly impressive if the 49ers defense could shutdown Green Bay's high-powered passing attack completely, it's not overly likely with the Packers averaging 32 points per game this season.
That isn't to say that San Francisco can't make it tougher on the Packers quarterback. Making sure tackles, not allowing the big play and a timely sack or two are all ways to slow down the reigning NFL MVP.
- Keep Clay Matthews and the Packers pass rush at bay
The Packers defense recorded seven sacks of Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on Monday and are tied for fourth in the NFL with 11 sacks this season. Matthews accounted for two of those sacks and has proven that a move to middle linebacker hasn't hindered his ability to get to the quarterback.
Conversely, Colin Kaepernick has been sacked seven times through three games, tied for seventh most of any quarterback.
Matthews will likely be spying Kaepernick all afternoon, which makes it a marquee matchup to watch.
- Force a timely turnover
After seeing two defensive touchdowns scored against them last week against the Cardinals, the 49ers would love to get one themselves in Week 4. San Francisco has only forced two turnovers all season, tied for second fewest in the league.
There isn't a better game to add to that total. Rodgers isn't a quarterback who will make many mistakes – he hasn't thrown an interception all season and only threw five in 2014 – but the 49ers defense needs to be opportunistic should he send any errant passes their way.
Whether it be a turnover at the end of the first half that turns into points or a late fumble in the fourth quarter, the 49ers will likely need a key takeaway to emerge victorious in Week 4.
- Bush's return to the lineup
Reggie Bush was one of the biggest additions to the 49ers for the 2015 season, and it remains a mystery what his exact role will look like in Geep Chryst's offense. A calf injury in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings has kept the versatile running back sidelined.
Jim Tomsula said on Friday that he "feels real good" about where Bush is at and that he's been practicing all week.
Bush is the most experienced ball carrier on the 49ers offense and his return will be welcomed against the Packers.