An interesting week of football! Six weeks into the season, we’re at the stage where trends are less likely to be a mirage and more likely to be legitimate.
Although there’s no Melbourne content today, there’ll hopefully be some coming in the not too distant future. Today it’s all about West Coast, set shots, Carlton’s defence and St Kilda’s alarming slide.
And before we get into it, a promise that next week’s Notebook will have an entirely positive focus, given this week’s is a touch negative.
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The line between West Coast’s contests and performances
The Notebook is dipping into reader generated content for the first time, thanks to a reader who sent through through a message pointing out what is essentially a straight line between most of West Coast’s worst quarters of the season and an inability to win contested ball.
Coincidentally it continued on in the capitulation in the second quarter against Geelong. Consider the following once we remove the score influenced final terms against Port Adelaide and Collingwood:
|Q4 v Bulldogs, Round 2||-12||2.3 to 5.4|
|Q3 v Saints, Round 4||-9||3.0 to 5.6|
|Q4 v Saints, Round 4||-8||0.1 to 5.1|
|Q1 v Magpies, Round 5||-9||3.1 to 5.4|
|Q2 v Cats, Round 6||-21||0.1 to 10.1|
Obviously it’s not always as simple as ‘win contested ball, beat West Coast’, and there are other factors in play sometimes – but it does point to the Eagles’ struggles in that area and how much they’re missing the likes of Luke Shuey and Elliott Yeo.
The Derby on Sunday – hopefully to be played in front of a crowd – is set up tantalisingly. West Coast have beat Fremantle ten times in a row, their last loss to the Dockers coming all the way back in Round 3, 2015.
The continuing adventures of Carlton’s defence
A common theme this year has been Carlton’s defence causing them all sorts of grief, simply not being good enough for a team with their ambitions.
Losses to Collingwood and Port Adelaide came despite having more inside 50s than their opposition, while Carlton actually won three of four quarters against Brisbane, but left Marvel Stadium empty handed.
All three teams have been able to generate high quality scoring efforts thanks to Carlton’s lack of structure with their team defending.
In parts against the Lions the defending was arguably the worst of the season. In the interest of brevity the following breakdown won’t cover every passage, because otherwise it’ll end up being a 10 minute video. This is the most glaring one able to be explained via the broadcast view.
When finals sides go forward, they normally do so with an element of cover behind the ball, making it tough for their opponents to rebound.
Here Eddie Betts’ inside 50 goes to a two-on-two, with a couple extra Lions already back first to cover dangerous ground space.
Harris Andrews does exceptionally well to win the contest and tumble it back outside 50 to Hugh McCluggage. It’s not ideal from a Carlton point of view but still salvageable.
Instead McCluggage and Jarryd Lyons are allowed to cruise forward, completely unmarked, and combine for a shot on goal. Let’s track them in the clip:
A complete breakdown in team defence not up to finals standard, which is where Carlton wanted to be this year – and it happens too many times, week after week.
For the record the next time Carlton appear in a Notebook it will be positive, lest we spiral into a pit of negativity.
If you’ve missed any of the previous editions of Monday’s Notebook, you can catch up by clicking here and scrolling through the season so far:
Inconsistent interpretations of set shot lines
Within about 15 minutes on Saturday afternoon, these two set shots were interpreted wildly differently.
First there is Mitch Duncan’s torpedo after the half time siren at GMHBA Stadium. As he starts to set up, you can hear the umpire saying, ‘straight up and down where you are’, instructing Duncan on the line to take so he doesn’t get called for moving off it.
Duncan sticks as close to it as possible before belting home the goal and all is well.
Shortly afterwards on the Gold Coast, Ben King’s set shot for goal has Kaiden Brand on the mark 50 out.
King is able to swing to his right a few metres, making Brand all but useless all while there’s no play on call and the umpire still signals stand.
Two nearly identical set shots handled completely differently. The presence of an end of quarter siren shouldn’t be changing things this drastically:
This inconsistency is going to end in tears for a team at some stage if there’s not a blanket rule applied across the board, whichever way they decide to interpret it.
What’s behind St Kilda’s drop?
This probably deserves a whole piece; containing it to one mini-point isn’t really doing the topic justice.
Last year the Saints weren’t great at defending on the outside, partly due to their style of list build and the types of players prioritised. But a cliff notes summary of their 2020 was how they were able to make up for it with pressure around the ball, those efforts creating turnovers which they were then able to score well from, consistently generating high quality scoring shots. It then meant defenders weren’t besieged with high quality entries to fend off and St Kilda were largely able to play games on their terms.
For the most part St Kilda were able to conceal their weakness – and then the calendar flipped over into 2021.
Constant unavailability hasn’t helped – already up to 30 players used without Hannebery, Geary, Ryder, Frawley and Paton making an appearance, combined with the season ending injury to Gresham in Round 3.
Add to it teams now having a whole summer to prepare for what the Saints bring. There’s no element of surprise anymore, and a clear soft spot for teams to zoom in on – move the ball to the outside away from St Kilda’s pressure and results will come.
Structurally it isn’t as if the Saints are in Carlton areas with basic breakdowns time after time. They’re usually set up in acceptable areas, but simply don’t have the ability to go with opponents if they lose contests.
Take this passage of play for instance. St Kilda set up relatively well at the boundary throw in. Boak beats Ross a little too easily but his kick out to Amon v Hill on the far side should result in a straight one-on-one.
By the time Amon wins possession, you can see no Saint has managed to stick with Motlop’s dash. The closest opponents to Boak, Wines and Houston are again in a decent spot to defend albeit not spectacular, instead opting to drop back into a line to protect a short chip.
But Marshall is able to gain separation on the lead which makes Motlop’s kick an easier one – again from a Saint not being able to stick with his opponent in open space.
Even when Marshall slightly changes the angle on his inside 50 to Dixon, there are Saints in the vicinity, but yet again they can’t cover the ground to outnumber in the air. Howard saves the day with a spoil before an excellent Clark tackle forces a stoppage. Here’s the play in its entirety:
It’s not a horror story by any means, but it’s an indicator of how the Saints are just a half step off continually – knowing how to do the right things but not able to carry it out quick enough to matter for the most part. They got away with it eventually here, but weren’t so lucky elsewhere.
Because of all this, when St Kilda do have the ball, they retreat into a safe mode – the thought of what could happen on a counter fresh in the mind. Ball movement becomes safe, suddenly the high quality shots of a year ago are all but a distant memory, and it’s a vicious circle closing in on them.
Depending on which version of Hawthorn arrives at Marvel Stadium on Saturday – the conservative outfit from a couple of their losses, or the free-wheeling, ‘what is defence’ unit we saw against Adelaide in Launceston – it may turn out to be a great opportunity for St Kilda to rediscover their strengths which led them to a semi-final in 2020.