Look Back/Look Ahead: Adelaide Crows

Welcome to Look Back/Look Ahead, a series where every team is analysed in-depth, and their temperature taken. The plan here is to figure out where a team is at with their on-field style and overall list health before transitioning to their most pressing issue, and whether they can solve it over the off-season.

Adelaide are at an intriguing place with their list build.

There are plenty of positives, with a number of youngsters taking a step forward in 2022.

There are also lingering questions around style and certain areas of the field, and how that may affect their next step.

But before we get into style queries, let’s start with a list status check.

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Look Back/Look Ahead will run during the weeks of September, taking us right up to Grand Final day and finishing with the top two shortly after.

$10 Patrons will have exclusive access to these posts for the first 24 hours after publishing and they’ll be free for all after that. The schedule for non-finalists (not including North Melbourne):

West CoastReadGWSReadEssendonRead
AdelaideTodayHawthornReadGold CoastRead
Port AdelaideReadSt KildaReadCarltonSep 13

Here are all the Patreon details and how to sign up.

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If no image appears here, head to the List Management page for the most up-to-date graphic

On-field in 2022, Adelaide were the youngest team*, handing the most minutes to players 22 and under.

(*Not to be confused with the line in Essendon’s piece on Thursday, the Bombers’ situation purely on a head-to-head basis)

They also handed the second most minutes to players in the 23-25 age range. Only one quarter of minutes went to those in their age 26 year or over, far and away the lowest in the league.

It’s not to say there wasn’t a reliance on the experienced players: Taylor Walker was obviously still the number one forward, and the midfield rotation was run on an extremely tight leash which caused issues. But overall, there were minutes pumped into youth.

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Posts are coming thick and fast at the moment. If you’ve missed anything over the last week or so, here are links to catch up:

Friday 2nd: Match Analysis: Brisbane v Richmond, Elimination Final
Thursday 1st: Look Back/Ahead: Essendon (15th, 7-15, 83.2%)
Wednesday 31st: Look Back/Ahead: GWS (16th, 6-16, 84.6%)
Tuesday 30th: Look Back/Ahead: West Coast (17th, 2-20, 59.8%)
Friday 26th: North Melbourne’s end of season list analysis

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If no image appears here, head to the List Management page for the most up-to-date graphic

What stands out to me are the number of players tied down to 2024 and beyond. It’s a unique strategy for the Crows’ position – only Gold Coast (forced to lock players down because of circumstances) and Melbourne (reigning premiers have a lot of people good at football) have more in the same situation.

Players contracted to 2024 and beyond (at time of writing)

21: Gold Coast
20: Melbourne
19: Adelaide, St Kilda
18: Brisbane, Essendon
17: GWS
16: Collingwood, Port Adelaide
15: North Melbourne, Richmond
14: Carlton, Fremantle, Sydney, West Coast
12: Geelong
11: Western Bulldogs
8: Hawthorn

It’s not necessarily right or wrong either way, and just a matter of opinion which side you’re on while we’re unaware of their salary cap setup. Different approaches = fun discussion points.

The list looks to be building steadily. A future forward line of Thilthorpe, Fogarty, Rachele and Rankine is tasty, the likes of Soligo and Parnell showed their potential this year and the key defensive rotations appear to be locked in with mid-sizers surrounding them.

(Side note: how is Tom Doedee only 25 when it feels like he’s been around for 10 years already?)

My queries for Adelaide aren’t focused on individual talent. It’s about the big picture style, and whether it’s suited to their list.

Query #1: The midfield makeup

The defensive side of Adelaide’s game is evident, and clearly works. The Crows’ coaches frequently label their team ‘defence-first’, and it all starts around the ball where they put more pressure on than any other team (source)

Defence is not an issue. But on the other side it does feel like Adelaide’s on-ballers can’t hurt opponents often enough. This year the midfield rotation consisted of:

– Rory Laird
– Ben Keays (save for a couple of late-season games)
– Matt Crouch at the start of the year, which then turned into Sam Berry
– Harry Schoenberg
– Late season appearances by Jake Soligo

Those first four players are either accumulators with middling disposal skills, or great defensively but minimal impact offensively.

It’s not a profile that consistently drives scoreboard pressure. There’s only been minimal drive to change it from the coaching group, which seems to indicate it’s part of the plan to focus on defence at all costs.

That leads us into query number two…

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As we head towards free agency and trade period, a reminder that the plan is to have a post for every move that involves a player:

For first access, head to Patreon to sign up.

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Query #2: Creativity in possession

This focus on defence first has stifled any sort of creativity in possession. Poor Jordan Dawson must feel like a unicorn at times comparing his capabilities to team instructions.

Adelaide are a straight line football team. That pattern helps them defensively, because predictability allows players to get in place behind the ball and saturate space at the drop.

But Adelaide aren’t a fast straight line football team, and as a result offensive patterns devolve into a possession-contest-possession-contest loop. Once Gold Coast’s fun anomaly of a style is removed, no side has a greater percentage of contested possessions to total disposals than the Crows.

While it helps Adelaide defend, it does the same thing for their opposition. Not forced to stretch and cover space, they’re instead allowed to focus near-exclusively on defending at contest because of the Crows’ movement.

It lessens Adelaide’s margin for error – take the win over Carlton as an example. The Crows were indisputably the better team for the last three and a half quarters. But because their setup makes scoring harder than it needs to be, it took until time on of the last quarter to seal the four points.

While they’re playing this way, Adelaide aren’t going to be a bad side – eight wins this year and seven wins last year with such a young outfit demonstrates as much. Graduating to a genuinely good side will require everything to break positively.

Maybe this has always been the plan – consolidate the defensive side before adding offensive layers. Time will tell in 2023.

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