Saban Versus Jackson: Could Alabama Beat Cleveland?

Saban Versus Jackson
Alabama football players and Coach Nick Saban take to the field before the start of Alabama playing Tulane on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008, at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Photo Credit: Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman by Creative Commons License

With Cleveland coming fresh off of a 0-16 season, it has to be considered… If the Browns cannot defeat an NFL team, could the, arguably, best college team actually beat them? Since Alabama has been perennial contenders for the national championship during the past ten years, it seems pretty clear that it has the best chance to beat the Browns but how big is that chance, really?

The favorite is obviously the Browns, as they’re a professional team and Alabama has many starting players that won’t make it in the NFL. The NFL is an assimilation of the best college players on each team, so by definition, the Browns should be favored.

However, Alabama still has a chance to win. Even if you do not think Alabama has any chance at all, ask yourself this: If Cleveland hypothetically played Alabama 100 times, 1,000 times, or 10,000 times, could the dominoes fall in a way that allows Alabama to eke out a win? If the answer is yes (as it should be), then Alabama has a chance, no matter how slim. For the record, I think Alabama would have about a 30 percent chance of winning.

The Case Against Cleveland

The main thing going for Cleveland is the fact that the roster is made of NFL players. However, in terms of production, the Browns have many skeletons in their closet as an NFL team. Reasonable minds may differ, but the coaching staff, led by head coach Hue Jackson, seems to be inept in many different ways.

The Browns are -28 in turnover differential and their quarterback threw 22 interceptions in 15 games, an average of nearly 1.5 interceptions per game. Finally, they lost against the Steelers in Week 17 when Pittsburgh rested many of its starters. While the Browns’ negatives outweigh their positives in a big way, Alabama is the opposite.

The Case For Alabama

Alabama’s defense only allows 11.5 points per game and is ranked number one overall out of 130 teams. At 37.9 points per game, Alabama’s offense ranks 12th in the country. Alabama is the favorite in basically every game they play, not to mention that they have one of the best coaches in college football in Nick Saban. Alabama has a +13 turnover differential in 13 games, which means that it averages one more possession per game than the opponent. That being said, Alabama is not perfect. It has a 19-year-old quarterback and as said before, many of the players on this roster will not go on to the NFL.

Alabama’s strength lies with its defense and its coach while Cleveland’s strength lies with its more talented roster. With all of the comparisons done, how could a game between these two teams unfold?

Alabama’s Path to Victory: Defense

A win starts with Alabama’s defensive scheme. The defense wouldn’t be getting much pressure on Deshone Kizer without committing to a blitz because the Browns linemen are heavier and taller on average than Alabama’s defensive line. When rushing three or four, the defensive line would be overwhelmed in one-on-one situations.

The defense would have to rely on either a heavy blitz or a heavy zone coverage in order to have any chance of beating the Browns. A man-to-man coverage wouldn’t work because the Browns receivers would outrun and overpower the Alabama cornerbacks and safeties for big plays.

The main goal of this defense should be forcing turnovers through confusing zones or pressured throws. Running a man-to-man or a simple zone will not work against an NFL team when the players are as outmatched as they are.

Alabama’s Path To Victory: Offense

The offense should be a bit more geared toward minimizing turnovers and time in the pocket because the offensive linemen will be getting beat at the line of scrimmage. Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett would be pretty much unstoppable. If the offense turns the ball over, it basically already lost. If the Browns choose to blitz, it is imperative that it is picked up because that is pretty much the only time when the ball could be thrown deep to open receivers, if any deep balls are thrown at all.

The best way for Alabama to get a victory would be to play the time of possession game while not turning the ball over and forcing turnovers through a disguised zone coverage. Alabama would have to play a nearly penalty-free game while Cleveland would have to give up a lot of penalty yardage and first downs by penalty.


Alabama would probably lose against the Cleveland Browns, but it is not as clear as it seems at first glance. Alabama would have to play a near-flawless game and Cleveland would have to beat themselves through penalties and turnovers. Whoever wins or loses, one thing is for sure: it would be a really interesting game.