Eagles, Vikings show Packers how they could've won without Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sunday’s NFC Championship Game should be a case study for the Green Bay Packers on how to not only survive but flourish without a starting quarterback.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings wrote the report on it this season.

It’s why Nick Foles and Case Keenum will decide who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl, and why the Packers are in an offseason of upheaval.

Everyone from team president Mark Murphy, the new overseer of all things football in Green Bay after he made significant changes to the organizational flow chart last week, on down through new general manager Brian Gutekunst and returning coach Mike McCarthy should watch and learn on Sunday.

Or maybe they already have.

It starts with the two quarterbacks, but it doesn’t end there.

Both teams provided their backup quarterbacks with the resources to win. Yes, quarterback play made a difference in both cases, but it wasn’t the overriding factor in their successes.

Still, it’s a good place to start.

When Keenum replaced Sam Bradford (who had replaced Teddy Bridgewater), he had 24 career starts under his belt. When Foles replaced Carson Wentz, he had 36 starts.

When Brett Hundley took over for Aaron Rodgers, who broke his collarbone in Week 6, the Packers were going with a first-time starter. McCarthy stated emphatically that the three years he had invested in Hundley as a backup made him the right choice for the job, but the Packers either underestimated the former fifth-round pick’s ability or his acumen for the offense.

The result was a wildly uneven showing from week to week.

Compare Hundley's numbers to those of the other two:

  • Hundley (11 games total, 3-6 as a starter): Nine touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 60.8 completion percentage, 5.81 yards per attempt and a 70.6 passer rating.

  • Keenum (16 games, including playoffs, 12-3 as a starter): 23 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 67.2 completion percentage, 7.42 yards per attempt and a 97.3 passer rating.

  • Foles (eight games, including playoffs, 3-1 as a starter): Five touchdowns, two interceptions, 61.1 completion percentage, 5.84 yards per attempt and an 84.2 passer rating.

Perhaps the most telling number doesn’t show up in any of those stats, and that’s sacks. Hundley was sacked 29 times in 11 games, which, in part, speaks to his poor pocket awareness. Keenum has been sacked 24 times in 16 games and Foles six times in eight games.

But it runs much deeper than just the fill-in quarterbacks.

The top-seeded Eagles ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and were No. 1 against the run. The Vikings ranked first in total defense and were second against both the run and the pass.

To be sure, the Eagles and Vikings were constructed differently. They don’t have the luxury of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, so they devoted resources elsewhere.

The Packers used 13.36 percent of their total 2017 salary cap on the quarterback position -- 12.89 percent of that was Rodgers. They devoted only 40.77 percent of their cap space to the defensive side of the ball.

The Eagles, with the benefit of a starting quarterback on his rookie contract, needed only 5.2 percent of their cap space on the position, including just 3.97 percent on Wentz. Foles, who is on a two-year, $11 million deal, ate up just 1.05 percent of the Eagles’ cap space in 2017. Therefore, they could devote 45 percent of their cap to their defense.

While the Vikings’ quarterback-cap situation more closely resembled the Packers', using 15.3 percent of their cap space on the position (including 12.23 percent on Bradford), they still managed to use 52.14 percent of their cap space on their defense.

In some ways, the Eagles and Vikings have done the unimaginable by reaching the conference title game without their starting quarterbacks. But upon closer inspection, thanks to veteran backups and championship-caliber talent and coaching on defense, it’s just that they were better prepared to survive without them.