We’ve made it – we’re finally at the end of the bye rounds.
It’s all set up for a nine-round sprint to September. Apart from Port Adelaide and Collingwood seemingly locked into the top four – both with four game buffers – everything else looks up in the air.
Today’s Notebook covers Melbourne’s regression in front of goal, Adelaide’s blistering third quarter, and resetting expectations for the run home.
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Melbourne regressing in front of goal
A few weeks ago, I touched on Melbourne’s forward experiments and how accuracy had covered up flaws.
Fast forward to now and we can see what happens when that incredibly hot run comes to an end.
The scores per inside 50 and raw inside 50 totals are relatively similar, allowing for changing conditions, but the huge difference is accuracy. We can measure this through Expected Score:
First Nine Games
43.69% scores per inside 50
106.9 points per game
+130 points on Expected Score
59 inside 50s per game
Next Five Games
40.94% scores per inside 50*
67.6 points per game*
-62 points on Expected Score
55.2 inside 50s per game
*Two wet games in those five to be fair
A handful of players struggling with their range:
|Player||First Nine Games||Next Five Games|
**six games in first nine
It goes back to the linked post from a few weeks ago. Melbourne weren’t generating a heap of chances, so they needed to be accurate to kick a winning score. Now the accuracy has dropped off – at least for the time being, anyway – we see the consequences in results.
All the list demographics, contracts, and depth chart pages are freshly updated and ready to play around with.
The depth chart pages are available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers. Hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.
Adelaide’s blistering third quarter v Collingwood
After finally getting to see Adelaide live for the first time this year, it was probably inevitable there’d be an Adelaide Notebook entry.
(What kind of fixture has no games in Melbourne – Ballarat and Geelong don’t count – until Round 15, he says selfishly. Especially when the next two games in Melbourne overlap with North Melbourne matches)
Rewarded with probably the Crows’ best quarter of 2023 in the third term, what stood out to me was how their defensive and offensive games worked in near-perfect harmony: a game plan synced to thwart Collingwood’s strengths.
We all know Collingwood like to move the ball at speed, looking to take the quickest route home and coming straight out the front of contests.
Adelaide looked to minimise that by loading up numbers on the defensive side of contests in their front two thirds of the ground, and also behind play in line with the ball – often neglecting width in their setup.
It was almost as if they dared Collingwood to either go back and around – which would naturally be slower than their normal pace – or try to blast directly through going straight/corridor.
In the absence of full ground broadcast vision making it easy to paint a picture for me, I’ll attempt a diagram to illustrate. I could probably get better at this:
A lot of how Collingwood break teams open with ball movement comes from having the confidence to take the most aggressive option over and over again. Adelaide daring them to take that aggressive option over a simple one when the former was covered – in this clip there’s an easy wide option ignored/not presenting – led to the types of turnovers we don’t normally see Collingwood make:
Often Collingwood’s numbers draw closer to the ball in open play looking to win and go straight forward at a rate of knots.
But in the third term, when Adelaide’s pressure and ball winning was at its peak, it actually played right into the Crows’ hands. Not only did they not have to worry about defending width because numbers weren’t there, it also left plenty of space to use that width in offence when they won the ball.
For example, with a good kick from Lachie Sholl and a brilliant one from Darcy Fogarty:
And when it all came together, the effect was Adelaide with a spaced-out field whenever they wanted, able to pick through the Collingwood defence with ease before going to one-on-ones in their favour deep inside 50:
It was an unbelievably good quarter from a side that’s still building and far from the finished article.
Of course it didn’t result in the four points, but that they could play this way should be taken as another sign of Adelaide’s progress.
If you’ve missed any of the individual team deep dive posts this season, here are the five to catch up on:
How Port Adelaide’s midfield works in tandem (after Round 14)
How a contested ball dominance is fuelling Collingwood’s leap forward (after Round 3)
St Kilda, an AFL team’s litmus test (after Round 6)
How sluggish ball movement is holding Carlton back (after Round 8)
The tweaks to Fremantle’s ball movement (after Round 12)
Resetting after the bye rounds
If you’re glass half full, you say 2023 is as even a year as we’ve ever had.
If you’re glass half empty, you say … there really aren’t that many good sides at the moment.
There is a four-game gap between the top two and fifth, and only a two-game gap between fifth and 14th.
St Kilda, in fifth, have lost three of their last four. Richmond, in 12th, have won their last three. With so many teams in a pack taking wins from each other, it’ll probably mean 12 wins and a good percentage still gets you into finals even with an extra game this year.
At this time of year it feels like the right moment to reset expectations for the stretch run. With that in mind, here are a couple of lines for how I’m viewing the top 14 teams in ladder order, with a key match for them:
Collingwood: The number one seed, with a slight question on if their forward line can bail them out if they have limited opportunities in a final.
Key game: Round 19 v Port Adelaide @ Adelaide Oval
Port Adelaide: The only reason I don’t have them in a tier with Collingwood is because I wonder if there’ll be any fatigue-related slippage from Rozee and Butters – it’s their first full season as the go-to guys.
Key game: Round 19 v Collingwood @ Adelaide Oval
Brisbane: Unstoppable at home, okay away. The latter has to change for any chance of progressing past an ‘almost’ team, especially with a top-two finish off in the distance as it stands.
Key game: Round 18 v Melbourne @ MCG
Melbourne: As covered above, their forward line is what’s stopping them from being in the top tier, with time starting to run out to find a solution.
Key game: N/A
St Kilda: Teams have figured out the Saints’ offensive movement and so far there’s been no counter. Their defence will keep them in nearly every game to a certain point but finding a few more goals will be what a September appearance hinges on.
Key games: Round 16 v West Coast @ Optus Stadium, Round 19 v North Melbourne @ Marvel Stadium, Round 20 v Hawthorn @ Marvel Stadium. These three are non-negotiable wins, which leaves just one or two more needed from the remaining six.
Essendon: A tough team to get a read on. Parts of their game look consolidated, others are obviously still a work in progress, and the result is a well-prepared team with a couple of big steps still to take. Can those steps come this year, or will it need another off season or two?
Key game: Round 19 v Western Bulldogs @ Marvel Stadium
Western Bulldogs: Possibly the most straight forward team to analyse in the league because their strengths and weaknesses have been the same for years. The key is whether their defence can hold up without Liam Jones.
Key game: Round 18 v Sydney @ SCG
Adelaide: As covered above, their improvement has been significant this year, with the offensive side of their game really coming together. They’re not quite Brisbane levels of imposing at home, but close to it already with a team that still has so much improvement in it. Win a couple on the road and they should make finals relatively comfortably.
Key game: Round 17 v Essendon @ Marvel Stadium
Geelong: My read on the Cats at the moment is they’re still a very good team in Geelong – with five games still to come there – and slightly upper mid-table everywhere else.
Key game: Round 16 v Sydney @ SCG
Gold Coast: Most of their six-wins-in-nine-games stretch has come from playing their unique style better than before. But they have a brutal run home standing in their way to stop them with three of the top four, plus Adelaide and Sydney away.
Key game: Round 18 v St Kilda @ Heritage Bank Stadium
Fremantle: Maybe the most topsy-turvy team in the competition, but the general trend in their ball movement feels positive if they can keep their key players on the field.
Key game: Round 19 v Sydney @ Optus Stadium
Richmond: The slight tweaks made since Andrew McQualter’s appointment as interim coach – as detailed on AFL.com.au – have helped. Whether those changes are a sugar hit or permanent is impossible for me to predict.
Key game: Round 17 v Sydney @ MCG
Sydney: If personnel come back in time, they’ll be okay, but they’re going to be the swing team a lot of opponent’s seasons depend on. Every remaining game is against opponents between fourth (Melbourne) and 14th (GWS).
Key game: …all of them
GWS: Before the bye it looked like things were starting to come together for the Giants under Adam Kingsley. They could go on a storming run or remain floating one to two games outside the eight, and neither would surprise me.
Key game: Round 20 v Western Bulldogs @ Mars Stadium
Predicting who makes September would be foolish.
But because predictions are also fun, I’ll go with this as my top eight in order after a 60-second speed run of the ladder predictor: Collingwood, Port Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle, Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, Geelong.