Last Sunday during the NFC Championship game, we were all forced to suffer through the indignity of watching the 49ers attempt to beat a supremely talented team Eagles team without their starting quarterback. When surprisingly effective rookie QB Brock Purdy went out with an elbow injury early in the game, the team had to turn to veteran Josh Johnson. Unfortunately, Josh Johnson eventually would be sidelined as well.
This required the team to briefly explore the idea of putting emergency quarterback (and usual running back) Christian McCaffrey under center before finally bringing Purdy back in to mostly just hand the ball off and accept inevitable defeat.
Josh Johnson Vs. Christian McCaffrey At QB
It goes without saying that the 49ers’ chances of beating the Eagles took a huge blow when Purdy left the game. But the question remains as to just how unlikely it would have been for Josh Johnson or even Christian McCaffrey to step in to lead the 49ers to victory. Which of the two would have had the better chance to get the team to the Super Bowl? Fortunately, we have Madden 23 at our disposal to show us which of these players would have helped win a game versus the Eagles before the other?
Let’s run a bunch of simulations and see how many games it will take before Josh Johnson and Christian McCaffrey are able to actually win an NFC Championship game in Philadelphia.
Simulation #1 – Eagles 13, 49ers 10
This is the kind of game that the 49ers and their fans probably would have considered their best chance at pulling out the NFC Championship once Brock Purdy went down. The defense bore down and played up to their league-best status to keep the game close by holding Jalen Hurts to just 53 yards passing in the game. On the offensive side, Josh Johnson didn’t make too many big mistakes aside from one interception.
In the end, the game was tied late but Philly made enough plays to get close enough for a game-winning field goal to send the Eagles to the Super Bowl. This felt like a missed opportunity for the 49ers where the stars nearly aligned until a ball kicked by Jake Elliott threw them out of alignment.
Josh Johnson: 210 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Simulation #2 – 49ers 41, Eagles 3
What!? How could this happen? A 49ers rout in Philadelphia? Would they even have been able to complete the game with the fans almost certain to be rioting by the time it was 31-0 at halftime? In a game that was actually fairly balanced in terms of yardage and time of possession, the way this one got away from the Eagles was via Jalen Hurts throwing interceptions in the red zone (and adding a fumble, to boot). His four turnovers kept the Eagles from ever finding the end zone.
Josh Johnson morphed into the most efficient game manager imaginable and, unlike Hurts, he didn’t turn the ball over at all. This Madden fever dream seems to indicate that it was at least possible for the 49ers’ defense to generate enough opportunities to take a lot of the pressure off the offense.
Josh Johnson: 177 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT
Simulation #1 – Eagles 24, 49ers 17
Okay, this is a lot tighter than I was expecting a simulation to be considering how Christian McCaffrey’s rating in the game plummets to 20 OVR once you edit him to be a quarterback instead of a running back. In this game, McCaffrey somehow outplayed Jalen Hurts to the tune of 203 yards and 1 TD. Sure, he also threw two interceptions, and those are a big reason the team ended up losing.
However, Hurts also threw two picks, only had 162 yards passing, and had no TDs through the air at all. The lack of rushing production from McCaffrey is a little surprising (10 carries for just 24 yards), as the Eagles ended up outrushing the 49ers 127-108 yards. Still, this game has to be viewed as an encouraging sign that perhaps the 49ers can win a game in Philadelphia with McCaffrey at quarterback.
McCaffrey: 18-28, 203 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 10 carries for 24 yards
Simulation #2 – Eagles 31, 49ers 0
Yeah, this is probably a little bit closer to expectations when you insert a running back at QB. To be fair, McCaffrey wasn’t all that terrible in this game despite the offense being unable to sustain a drive and ultimately putting up zero points. While this likely already proves that Josh Johnson was a better option at QB for the 49ers given how it only took Johnson two simulations to beat the Eagles, let’s continue on to see how many games it might take for McCaffrey to pull out a victory.
McCaffrey: 11-14, 142 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 3 carries for 5 yards
Simulation #3 – Eagles 42, 49ers 14
Unlike the last two simulations where QB McCaffrey was somehow surprisingly accurate when throwing the ball, in this one his completion percentage plummeted to what is probably a more realistic 38%. The two passing TDs he threw might help the stats look a little better, but they also came with 3 INTs that gave the Eagles an advantage that you can’t afford to give them. On the other side, Hurts lit up the 49ers defense with 395 yards through the air and a whopping six passing touchdowns.
McCaffrey: 10-26, 167 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, 6 carries for 12 yards
Simulation #4 – Eagles 42, 49ers 7
Instead of these games getting closer to McCaffrey and the Niners pulling off an upset, they seem to be becoming larger and larger blowouts with every simulation. It’s hard to win any game in which your quarterback throws five interceptions like McCaffrey did in this one without throwing a single TD pass. Hurts only needed to be efficient if not spectacular as the Eagles’ ground game took over once it became apparent that the rout was on.
McCaffrey: 15-32, 165 yards, 0 TD, 5 INTs, 3 carries for 5 yards
Simulation #5 – Eagles 51, 49ers 0
Okay, I think we’re pretty much done with this experiment after this absolute abomination of a game.
McCaffrey: 8-26, 84 yards, 0 TD, 5 INTs, 3 carries for 5 yards
It’s readily apparent from these simulations that Josh Johnson was the better option at QB than Christian McCaffrey, and inserting McCaffrey at QB and giving him free rein to throw the ball would have likely been disastrous. Perhaps if the 49ers had all week to work on a Wildcat scheme, this would be different, but we’ll never know.
It only took Johnson two simulations to not only beat the Eagles on the road but also blow them out 41-3. McCaffrey, on the other hand, had one simulation in which he was able to keep the game close, but the other four simulations saw the Eagles running away with the NFC Championship in a hurry. This was due to McCaffrey turning the ball over, being inaccurate in general, and becoming limited in his rushing effectiveness once under center.