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Setting the Scene: Canberra Capitals

(Image sourced from the ABC & Basketball Australia)

(All statistics accurate as of Tuesday 2nd December, 2020).

The Canberra Capitals will once again feature at the pointy-end of the WNBL season, as the reigning back-to-back champions continue to prove their worth on both ends of the court.

With reigning WNBL MVP Kia Nurse unable to suit up for the Capitals in North Queensland, Canberra have enjoyed improvements from the likes of star guard Maddi Rocci, and the arrival for Arizona-State bound Jade Melbourne.

Following on from yesterday’s piece on the Adelaide Lightning, the second part of our WNBL series Setting the Scene looks to make sense of Canberra’s strong start to the 2020 WNBL season.

Champions on the defensive end

On the defensive end, Canberra comfortably rank as the competition’s top defensive side, with a defensive rating of 86.9 (allowing 86.9 points per 100 possessions). Utilising a relentless defensive mentality, Canberra are second in the WNBL for generating opposition turnovers. Canberra are also the competition’s best defensive rebounding team, denying their opposition easy 2nd-chance points.

These factors contribute to a consistent, multi-faceted team defense that denies opposition teams the opportunity to put big scores on the board against the Capitals, especially through denying their opposition shots from behind the arc. The Capitals suffocate their opposition’s shooters, allowing just 29.2% of their FG attempts to come from behind the arc. In their big 23-point win over Southside, Canberra managed to hold the Flyers to a 3-pt attempt rate of just 30%, well below their season average of 35%.

Canberra’s lively young guards in Rocci, Melbourne and Abby Cubillo are all strong perimeter defenders, capable of funnelling their match-ups off the three-point line toward Marianna Tolo inside.

Rocci and her backcourt teammates are also vital in slowing their opposition in transition. As it stands, Canberra also rank second-last in pace per game. Canberra’s slower style of play contrasts their previous two championship-winning seasons where the Capitals featured at the top of competition for pace.

Scoring inside

Given their tendency to shy away from shots from deep, Canberra lead the competition for % of total points scored inside the paint (52.6%), opting to force the ball inside for high-percentage looks.

Bigs Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo are two of the competition’s best inside players, while the Capital’s guards such as Rocci, Cubillo and Melbourne are not shy when it comes to attacking the rim. The clip below is just one example of Melbourne’s aggression to find shots inside. A truly great finish.

Despite their tendency to score from inside, the Melbourne Boomers’ ranking as the competition’s best interior defensive side (allowing just 38.5% of scores inside) rung true in their win over Canberra at the start of Round Four. In their first match-up of the season, Canberra managed to score a dominant 60% of their shots inside, beating the Boomers by a comfortable 17 points. However, last night, at the beginning of Round Four, Melbourne held Canberra to their smallest percentage of points scored inside for the season (36%), on their way to a gritty 6-point win.

The inside presence of Ezi Magbegor and Cayla George forced Canberra to shoot from behind the arc, where Canberra averages a 3pt% of just 28%. Could the key to challenging Canberra be as simple as forcing them to beat you from the outside? Unlikely, but it’ll definitely help.

The clip above sees Melbourne implement a pack style defence, going under screens and utilising late switches to tempt Canberra into shooting from behind the arc. Despite Melbourne’s presence inside, the Capitals attempt to penetrate the defense, with Keely Froling turning the ball over in the process.

Is Tupaea 6th woman of the year?

Having moved from Sydney Uni to Canberra in the offseason, Tahlia Tupaea has provided Canberra with plenty of value off the bench this season.

Averaging 22.2 minutes per game, Tupaea is ranked second in the WNBL for assists per 32 minutes with 6.8, second only to Opals star and former teammate Leilani Mitchell (8.3).

On top of her quantity of assists, Tupaea is the WNBL’s safest distributor with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.9. Such an outlier performance, combined with a small sample size, will likely see Tupaea’s efforts regress over time, but her impact on the Capitals has been nothing short of outstanding. Combining her strong distribution with ability to limit turnovers while doing so, it’s clear Tupaea is on her way back to the form that saw her part of the Opals squad previously.

Tupaea leads a bench unit that currently ranks equal first in the WNBL for % of total points scored from bench players (33.6%). This is a far cry from Canberra last season, when the Capitals’ bench units contributed just 13.3% of total points, good enough for second-last in the WNBL. Tupaea is the undoubted leader of this unit, orchestrating a number of passes to unlock the scoring potential of her teammates. In the example below, Tupaea cuts, catching the Perth defense on the back-foot before finding the cutting Rocci for an easy lay-up.

On the defensive end, Tupaea is capable of switching onto a vast array of different players. Without breaking a sweat, Tupaea looks at home guarding much taller opposition, thanks to her strength and ability to switch and defend in the pick and roll.

Overall, there’s no doubt Canberra are one of the best three sides in the WNBL this season. Wins over Southside and Melbourne in the early rounds of the season, combined with the continued impact of local stars Tolo, Griffin and now Rocci, will see Canberra cement a finals berth early into the final round.

Whether Canberra’s offense is able to begin leaning on outside shots to help diversify its offering is one question we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

If you’ve enjoyed this piece, be sure to read our analysis of the Adelaide Lightning in part one of the Setting the Scene series covering the WNBL season.

ftballextension@gmail.com

Glossary

3-pt attempt rate – % of total FG attempts from 3-pt range

Assist-to-turnover ratio – how many assists a player makes per turnover (i.e. 2.5 equals 2.5 assists for every turnover)

Pace – how many combined possessions a team has per game

% of total points scored from bench players – the percentage of a team’s total points scored by players off the bench

Defensive rating – the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions.

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Setting the Scene: Adelaide Lightning

(Image sourced from Adelaide Lightning)

(All statistics accurate as of Round Three conclusion).

Adelaide’s turbulent start to hub life has proved challenging to gauge exactly where the Lightning sit amongst their opposition.

An opening night OT win over the reigning back-to-back champions Canberra was followed by a 5-point win over Perth. Adelaide then missed nine days of action when they were forced into quarantine following the COVID-19 scare in South Australia. Since returning to action in Round Three, Adelaide have split their fixtures with wins over Bendigo and Sydney Uni, and losses to Melbourne and Southside.

The Lightning now have six games under their belt, with another three scheduled for this week’s Round Four of the 2020 WNBL season. The end of this week should see Adelaide’s fate easier to pick, with the current consensus placing the Lightning 5th come season’s end.

Today’s piece exploring Adelaide’s start to the season features as the first of two pieces set to be released this week in our Setting the Scene series. The series aims to shed light on an entertaining WNBL season, worthy of more consideration in Australia’s current sporting landscape.

Adelaide are dangerous in transition

Undoubtedly, Adelaide play an up-tempo style of play, seeking to pull down rebounds and push the pace against their opposition. Adelaide rank second in the WNBL this season for pace, which calculates the number of possessions a team has, as well as their opposition.

Adelaide head coach Chris Lucas has clearly identified the skillsets of his roster this season, tailoring the Lightning’s offense to largely benefit the skillsets of their captain Stephanie Talbot and homegrown recruit Alex Wilson. So far this season, Adelaide comfortably rank first for total % of points scored from fast break opportunities.

As discussed in more depth below, Talbot, along with her teammates, have relished opportunities in transition this season. Talbot ranks second for rebounds per game, allowing her to pull down opposition misses, before jetting up the court to score or find her teammates for easy finishes. Here’s just one example we found where Talbot pulls down the contested rebound before beating the opposition back to their own basket.

Talbot becomes the undisputed leader

The Adelaide captain is an undisputed MVP candidate herself, currently ranking in the top ten for all the main statistical categories.

CategoryAverageRanking
Points per game19.82nd
Rebounds per game9.82nd
Assists per game4.08th
Steals per game2.0=2nd
Blocks per game1.24th

This sort of production is something we haven’t seen from the versatile forward since she returned to the WNBL in the 2018-19 season. Talbot played a supporting role to the likes Ezi Magbegor, Cayla George, Lindsey Allen and Sarah Boothe in her return season with the Melbourne Boomers, ranking fifth for usage with the Boomers (20.7%, 29th in WNBL). Talbot also played the supporting act to import Brianna Turner last season when she joined the Lightning, once again boasting a usage rate of just 22.7% (15th in WNBL).

This season, with no imports allowed to play in the WNBL, Talbot has relished the opportunity to lead the Lightning, increasing her usage rate to a league-leading 30.2%. With Turner now missing from Adelaide’s lineup, as well as the absence of Alanna Smith through injury, Talbot has taken it upon herself to initiate her’s team offence.

Along with pushing the ball up the court for fast-break scores, Talbot has seen her own shot selection drastically change in the early stages of this season. In the two previous WNBL seasons, Talbot boasted a 3-pt attempt rate of 41% and 51%, opting to shoot from behind the arc at a rate well above league average (roughly 32%). In the 2020 season so far, Talbot has shot just 17% of her FG attempts from behind the arc, instead opting to score inside, where she currently leads the WNBL in FT attempts (5.3).

Despite an increase in usage, Talbot has remained one of the competitions most efficient scorers, ranking third for true shooting % among players who average ten or more FG attempts per game. Talbot’s aggression to generate high-percentage looks inside for herself can be seen in the example below where she takes advantage of a Flames’ defensive breakdown, cutting to the basket for an easy finish.

Adelaide’s recruiting (tick)

With Adelaide missing the likes of Lauren Nicholson and Nicole Seekamp this season, a number of the Lightning’s recruits have provided great value since joining in the offseason.

Alex Wilson joined from Sydney Uni, and his since become the Lightning’s starting point guard, averaging 5.2 assists (fourth in the WNBL). Wilson’s distribution, paired with her 13.2 points per game have been a welcomed addition to Adelaide’s offense in an attempt to help fill the void left by Seekamp who has chosen to take time-away from basketball. In the example below, the threat of Wilson’s outside shot forces the long close-out, allowing Wilson to penetrate and find the open shooter.

In addition to Wilson, Abigail Wehrung joined from Bendigo, and now registers as Adelaide’s second-highest scorer (13.9 PPG), hitting an impressive 50% of her 26 shots from behind the arc. In the example below, Southside’s Rebecca Cole makes the mistake of going under the screen on Wehrung, who doesn’t hesitate to take the open 3-pt shot.

On top of her shooting, Wehrung is also considered one of the competition’s best perimeter defenders, which is another void Adelaide’s attempted to fill given the departure of Nicholson to Townsville.

Inside the paint, Louella Tomlinson joined from Southside and currently leads the competition for blocks per 32 minutes (4.2). Tomlinson’s presence inside has been a major contributing factor toward Adelaide conceding the equal-least % of total opposition points inside the paint this season (39.2%, =1st Melbourne).

Combined, Wilson and Wehrung’s contributions in the backcourt, paired with Tomlinson presence inside, has helped Adelaide build a strong assemble of supporting acts for Talbot. There’s no doubt however that head coach Chris Lucas would be thinking ‘what-if’, if he had Australian WNBA star Alanna Smith suiting up for the Lightning this season.

Questions surrounding Adelaide

Adelaide’s desire to push the ball has sometimes been the target of their opposition’s scouting reports. In Adelaide’s 31-point loss to Southside, the Flyers held Adelaide to zero points from fast-break opportunities, while in their fixture against Melbourne, the Lightning could only manage six points from transition. The example below highlights just one occasion where the Flyers were able to slow the Lightning in transition. Aimee Clydesdale picks up Adelaide guard Brooke Basham before the halfway line, denying her the opportunity to push the ball, and affording Southside time to set themselves on the defensive end.

With regard to Talbot, the increase in usage has seen her increase her turnover rate. Along with leading the competition in most statistical categories, Talbot also leads the WNBL in turnovers, averaging 3.7 per game. Among players who average two or more assists per game, Talbot has the lowest assist-to-turnover ratio (1.1 assists per turnover), highlighting a tendency to lose the ball in transition when attempting to be aggressive.

Finally, the question for Adelaide’s supporting cast will be whether one of the names mentioned above are capable of distinguishing themselves as a clear second option for the Lightning to lean on. In the absence of the injured Smith, Adelaide will be looking to Wilson and Wehrung to fill the scoring void, while Tomlinson’s strong interior presence will need to continue if the Lightning are any chance of reaching the final four.

If you’ve enjoyed this piece, tune in for our future WNBL pieces coming this week as part of the Setting the Scene series. We also have a number of similar articles on the 2020 AFL season if you’ve enjoyed the style and format of this piece (Saints/Power, Bulldogs/Blues, Lions/Power, GWS).

Finally, you can follow us on Twitter to get updates every time we upload something new. If you’re an existing reader, we appreciate your support given our irregularity.

ftballextension@gmail.com

Glossary

3-pt attempt rate – % of total FG attempts from 3-pt range

FT-attempt rate – the ratio of FT attempted per FG attempted

Usage rate – an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while they were on the floor

Assist-to-turnover ratio – how many assists a player makes per turnover (i.e. 2.5 equals 2.5 assists for every turnover)

True shooting percentage – a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws

Pace – how many combined possessions a team has per game

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Our thoughts prior to Richmond/Western Bulldogs (R9)

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AFL Round Eight: Saints’ Stoppages Prove Difference

(Feature image by Matt Turner/AFL Photos)

We’re back into our Round by Round series this week, with a particular focus on St Kilda’s win over Port Adelaide.

St Kilda recorded their second win at the Adelaide Oval within the week, following a strong final quarter performance to see off the ladder-leading Port Adelaide.

Today we have a closer look at where the Saints gained the upper-hand against the Power, with the game providing a great example of how a side was able to limit their opposition’s arguably greatest strength.

This piece, along with those coming in the future, will be slightly shorter than we’ve previously released. This is in order to keep up with the upcoming schedule, and also make our pieces slightly more digestible.

As always, please share/retweet this piece with anyone you think may enjoy our genre of work. Sharing pieces helps us reach a greater audience, which also ensures we’re able to continue writing more pieces in the future. If you’re not on Twitter, you can read our pieces directly from your inbox by joining our mailing list here.

The clearance & hitout differentials

There’s probably no guessing required as to where we’re starting this one.

Prior to Saturday evening’s game, Port Adelaide led the competition for average stoppage clearance differential, while the Saints ranked twelfth best. On Saturday though, St Kilda were able to gain the ascendency at stoppages, which proved to have a major influence on the game’s final result.

St Kilda won the final stoppage clearance count by nine, thanks in part to a convincing display in the final quarter where the Saints managed ten stoppage clearances to the Power’s six.

With Peter Ladhams shouldering the responsibility of being the Power’s first-choice ruckman for the second week running (as Scott Lycett remains injured), the Power’s poor showing at stoppages was foreshadowed by their struggles last weekend against the Blues, where they also lost the stoppage clearance count by five.

With this noted, the Saints doubled-down on their selection of both Rowan Marshall and Paddy Ryder against the Crows last weekend, once again opting to name the two bigs to face the Power.

The selection of both Marshall and Ryder raised questions from numerous pundits, though considering their dominance on Saturday evening, these concerns were quickly laid to rest.

Apparent from the outset, St Kilda were able to generate better field position from their ability to win decisive stoppages in between the arcs. Ryder and Marshall finished the game with a combined 40 hitouts (+24), whilst also ranking as as the two best players on the field according to the AFL rating points metric.

Credit @AFLPlayerRating

In particular, Ryder’s ability to dictate hit zones to his midfielders was unparalleled. Ryder won 65.9% of his 44 ruck contests, whilst also managing eleven hitouts-to-advantage. This was while Port Adelaide could only manage the five for the game.

A great example of how Ryder was able to put the Saints’ midfielders at such an advantage over their direct opponents, can be seen at the first boundary throw-in of the game.

We’ll discuss strategies regarding each side’s wings under the next subheading, but do note how Ryder (by winning the hitout) is able to place the ball in a zone where St Kilda have the number advantage around the stoppage.

A couple of examples & their relevance

The first example we used above provides a great illustration of how the Saints were able to generate clean ball movement from a number of stoppages across there field.

Watching the first clip again, take note of the time and space afforded to the Saints on their defensive side of the stoppage where Ryder places the hitout. The Power prefer to play their sweeping wing free at stoppages (as discussed in our Round Five piece about the Lions/Power fixture), which also allows their opposition to either play their sweeping wing free, or send them to the Power’s. During the majority of the first half, each side’s sweeping wing played separately.

Given St Kilda’s ruck dominance, the Saints were able to dictate the hit zones that favoured their numbers around stoppages. This isolated the Power’s sweeping wing, making their ability to impact the contest difficult, while the likes of Brad Hill and Jack Billings were able to impact the game from the very first boundary throw-in.

The Saints were too often able to generate run-and-carry from these stoppages by utilising handball outlets on their defensive side of stoppages (i.e. their free sweeping wing). The first example above wasn’t a standalone event, especially in the first quarter as the Power initially backed their ability to utilise their own sweeping wing and on-ball brigade.

In this example from the second quarter, Billings is positioned as the Saints’ sweeping winger, gaining possession under little pressure before utilising the run generated by Ben Paton off half-back to kick long into the Saints’ forward half.

Also note Brad Hill’s effort to spread from his starting position (corridor wing). Hill initially tracks his direct opponent (Xavier Duursma) to the far wing before making an excellent pressing decision, applying frontal pressure to Riley Bonner and forcing a stoppage.

This type of effort largely goes unseen from those quick to question Hill’s early impact at St Kilda. He’s clearly gassed after getting up from the tackle on Bonner having just shutdown any chance of a Power rebound out of their defensive half. The Saints go on to score from this stoppage, a deserving reward for Hill’s effort to lock the ball inside the Saints’ forward half.

Back on topic.

As the Saints chose to feed backward out of stoppages, the pressure from Port Adelaide’s highest forwards (Farrell in the first example of the piece, Ebert in the example where Billings wins the clearance) was simply lacking, often giving time for the Saints’ outlets to scan the field and move the ball promptly under little pressure. If you want to see what good pressure from your highest forwards looks like, read our piece about Carlton’s win over the Western Bulldogs.

The lack of pressure from Port Adelaide’s forwards at the back of stoppages may not directly be the fault of the Power’s forwards. Given the starting positions of the Power’s wingers and forwards in the first half, it seemed Port Adelaide wanted to keep stoppages open in order to let their league-leading midfield go to work. This standpoint seemed to change after halftime.

There were also times where the Power didn’t help themselves. In the case below, Dan Houston chooses to knock the ball forward at stoppage despite the Saints clearly outnumbering Port Adelaide on the Power’s offensive side of stoppage. The Saints sweeping wing (Jack Sinclair) is then able work the ball cleanly by hand to a set of one-on-ones ahead of the ball (something we analyse in more detail during the next section), generating an eventual score.

The Power eventually decided to send their sweeping wing to St Kilda’s in order to stem the metres gained generated by the Saints’ wings and half-backs from stoppages. The Power’s highest forwards also began to make their presence felt around stoppages, pushing higher up the ground to pressure the Saints’ outlets we’ve already discussed. When these moves were made during the third quarter, St Kilda began mixing things up (see below).

Score source & 1 v 1s

Prior to Saturday evening’s clash, Port Adelaide had scored 42.69% of their points this season from stoppages, ranking the Power fourth amongst all sides for percentage of total score sourced from stoppages (data sourced from the ABC’s great piece re Nick Haynes/GWS here).

Against the Saints, things were much different as the Power generated just nine points in total from stoppages (20.45% of their total score), with their one stoppage goal coming from the first centre bounce of the third quarter. This was while the Saints generated score after score from stoppage, utilising their aforementioned run-and-carry to isolate matchups across the ground. Here’s St Kilda’s first goal of the final quarter.

The Power (prior to Round Eight) ranked second in the AFL for offensive one-on-one contests, recording on average of 17 per game. This contrasted Saturday evening’s performance, as the Power were only able to generate ten one-on-ones ahead of the ball.

This was in part due to the Power spending less time in their forward half, but also key to this was Port Adelaide’s inability to win clearances around the ground.

Take a look at this example. As the Power begun to send their sweeping wing to St Kilda’s during the third quarter, the Saints began mixing up their hits.

Zak Jones runs a route to Ryder’s feet, drawing his opponent into congestion with him. This affords Jade Gresham time and space on the outside of the stoppage. Ryder (with some help from a deflection) puts the ball into Gresham’s path, with the speed of the sequence helping to isolate the one-on-one matchups ahead of the ball. As it all happens so quickly, the Power are unable to get a third-man-up across to generate any potential intercept over Marshall. Saints score.

This example highlights how winning clearances can have a major influence on a team’s ability to generate one-on-ones ahead of the ball. The Power’s defensive unit are given zero time to react as the Saints run the ball straight out of the contest. Here’s one from last week where Travis Boak was able to achieve a similar result against Carlton early in the first quarter. These shots on goal weren’t on offer against St Kilda.

Port Adelaide win the initial clearance, kicking inside 50 to six one-on-one matchups. Boak spreads forward from the contest to get on the end of a handball, finishing with the first goal of the game. The speed of the sequence isolates the matchups ahead of the ball as Carlton’s defensive unit are afforded little time to generate an intercept or spoil from a third-man-up scenario.

The Power’s stoppage woes meant their previous balance between scoring from stoppages or interceptions shifted very much in favour of the latter.

The Power were able to generate scores from interceptions with relative ease at times (i.e. Robbie Gray’s goal to end the first quarter). Though, in other periods of the game, St Kilda were able to execute some great team defending, limiting the Power’s ability to spend significant stretches of time in their forward half (ranked first in the AFL for average inside 50 differential, averaging +15).

The example below was just one sequence following a Port Adelaide intercept, where the Saints were able to slow the Power’s ball movement, forcing them laterally into an eventual turnover.

This example came at the backend of the third quarter which Port Adelaide had initially dominated, generating nine repeat entries inside 50. The Power failed to capitalise on these chances, leaving the door open for the Saints’ five goal final quarter blitz.

Overall

St Kilda’s stellar performance on Saturday evening shone a torchlight on Port Adelaide’s midfield brigade who were beaten convincingly in the loss.

The Saints took it to the Power around stoppages, creating valuable run-and-carry from contests, isolating 1 v 1 matchups ahead of the ball, and hitting the scoreboard in the process.

While these factors aided the Saints in their win, these efforts also directly limited the Power’s ability to utilise one of its greatest strengths. Could this performance from St Kilda form the blueprint for future sides preparing to tackle the current competition leader?

If you did enjoy this piece, please check out a similar analysis we did in our Round Five edition from the Power’s loss to Brisbane. You can also find us on Twitter (@ftballextension), or via our mailing list mentioned earlier.

ftballextension@gmail.com

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Are the current Giants capable of forward-half football?

Apologies for no new addition to our Round by Round (2020) series this week. We watched a handful of games from Round Seven with nothing really jumping out at us worthy of spending a couple hours digging further into.

Instead we’ve decided to spend some time looking ahead to Friday’s clash between GWS and Richmond, with the majority of focus spent on GWS. Given how crazy the year so far has been, it’s hard to remember this fixture is actually the 2019 Grand Final rematch.

Despite the successes of 2019, both sides have found themselves under the AFL media blowtorch at different stages of this season already.

Questions were raised about Richmond’s ability to back up their triumphant 2019 season following consecutive losses to Hawthorn and St Kilda. Things have since quietened down on that front (surprise, given we were only four rounds into the season) as the Tigers have made mince meat of Melbourne, Sydney and North Melbourne in recent weeks.

On the other hand, the Giants are currently under the proverbial blowtorch, copping a scorching for consecutive, somewhat narrow losses to the two highest ranked sides in the competition (Port Adelaide and Brisbane). The Giants should bounce back considering the strength of sides they’ve already faced this season. How they potentially return to form will be interesting to watch given comments from their coach during the week.

We’ll be honest from the get go, this piece lacks a little of structure and cohesion. We’ve decided to focus most of our time on some interesting midweek quotes from Giants senior coach Leon Cameron.

“The top clubs, when they get it in [the forward 50], they don’t let it out of there. We need to join that party, whether that’s through repeat stoppages or setting up really well behind the footy.

We clearly need to move the ball a bit better, but I’m a big believer that when we do get the ball inside our forward 50 we need to lock it in there a lot more.”

AFL.com.au (Martin Pegan)

We found these comments quite interesting given a couple of key on-field characteristics that have defined the Giants’ style of play since their first finals appearance back in 2016.

Firstly we’ll discuss the traditional field position Giants have occupied during games, contrasting this with Richmond, who are the model forward-half side.

We’ll then dive into three issues the Giants are currently facing, and how this impacts their intentions to transition into playing more forward-half football. These include their ability to defend in transition, their sudden drop in clearance wins, and finally the willingness of their forwards to pressure their opposition.

Because of time constraints, we were only able to use examples from last Saturday’s fixture versus Brisbane. We’d love to watch a larger sample of games to better understand these issues, but it’s just not feasible at this current time.

Before we dive into the piece, be sure to join our mailing list to receive an email every time we upload a piece. Given the upcoming fixture turbulence and a couple of things going on personally, we can’t make any guarantees as to when pieces will be uploaded to the site. You can also find us on Twitter as per usual (@ftballextension).

Field position & intercept ability

A simple way to kick things off, and we’re sure you’re already across it.

There’s not much guess work as to what the numbers suggest in regard to where the game will be predominantly played this Friday. The Giants rank first for average rebound 50 differential this season, while the Tigers rank fifth for average inside 50 differential.

Put simply, Richmond are a forward-half team, built to force turnovers forward of centre, generating repeat entries, and eventual scores. In 2019, Richmond’s average inside 50 differential ranking was second amongst all teams, while their scoring efficiency inside 50 only ranked 13th (HA season only). The Tigers don’t necessarily score efficiently, but they do bludgeon their opposition with repeat entries until they score.

On the other hand, the Giants have traditionally been a team able to withstand pressure in their defensive half, before cutting teams open heading back to goal (Giants using quite a blunt knife in 2020 so far). In 2019, the Giants ranked eleventh for average inside 50 differential, but were able to make up for this by scoring on (average) 45% of their entries inside 50 (4th in the AFL, HA season only).

The possession heat maps of both sides in their last two fixtures provide a great example of this contrast in average field position (though both teams have played varying quality of opposition in these fixtures).

Richmond possession heat maps (RD 6-7)
GWS possession heat maps (RD 6-7)

(via AFL Live mobile app).

Interestingly though, Leon Cameron spoke yesterday about the need for his side to modernise the way they’re currently performing, calling for improvements in regard to their average field position.

That grabbed our attention, especially considering the Giants’ tendency to spend time in their back half is not a new trend. In 2019 GWS ranked seventh for rebound 50 differential, while also ranking fifth in the same metric a year prior. In contrast, Richmond haven’t finished a season ranked higher than 15th for average rebound 50 differential since 2016 (where they ranked second).

To be able to trap the ball inside your forward half, you need elite intercept defenders who are able to set-up outside your forward 50, ready to send the ball back in for repeat entries at first opportunity. This can be considered a tick for the Giants considering they rank second in the competition for average intercept differential, despite missing the likes of Zac Williams and Sam Taylor for multiple games this season.

Nick Haynes has once again established himself as one of the competition’s elite intercept defenders, ranking third for average intercepts per game. Support for Haynes has been varying given the aforementioned injuries to key members of the Giants’ defensive unit. The likes of Phil Davis, Aidan Corr and Heath Shaw have all provided solid defensive support for Haynes, but in terms of moving the ball forward, only Haynes (32nd) and Corr (79th) rank among the top 100 players in the competition for average metres gained amongst GWS defenders (Williams ranks 71st but has only played three games).

The idea of Haynes and his fellow defenders working higher up the field in order to lock the ball inside the Giants’ forward half must be enticing for Leon Cameron and his coaching staff, but it’s never that simple.

Despite their own struggles with moving the ball, it became rather clear during last Saturday’s clash with Brisbane, that the ability to defend in transition might be the Giants’ greatest concern. This, paired with a drop in form from the GWS midfield, and questions regarding the ability/effort of their forward line to apply pressure on opposition exits, severely limit the intercept capability and effectiveness of their own defensive unit.

Stoppages & moving the ball forward

One of biggest concerns for the Giants currently has been around their ability to win clearances following a strong 2019 season around stoppages.

Last season the Giants ranked second for average stoppage clearance differential, with the likes of Jacob Hooper (13th) and Tim Taranto (25th) both ranking in the competition’s top 25 players for average clearances from stoppages.

So far this season, the Giants’ ranking in the same metric has fallen to tenth, highlighting concerns for Leon Cameron and his coaching staff. The Giants are now also ever-reliant on generating scores from stoppages, rather than interceptions. This is touched on nicely by the ABC in their piece this week (well worth a read).

Being able to bail out down the line knowing you hold the upper hand at stoppages gives confidence to players all over the field.

Defenders are afforded time to setup behind the ball, shuffle matchups to their liking, and maybe even generate a +1 in defence. Forwards can also set up down the line, with talls ready to fly for marks, while smalls can either get front-and-centre, or spread into space on the far wing, threatening to get in and behind their opposition’s defence.

Considering Richmond also rank in the bottom half of the competition for average stoppage clearance differential (13th), the Giants’ chances of generating a more aggressive field position by winning clearances is hopefully just around the corner. The Giants will also be aided by the return of midfield bull Tim Taranto, who illustrated some of his quality against the Lions last Saturday (three stoppage clearances, two goals).

Lost in transl-ition

There’s been some commentary this week about the Giants’ ability to defend in transition, with various clips making the rounds on various AFL media platforms.

It’s hard to watch. Especially against Brisbane, GWS struggled on a number of occasions to slow the ball movement of the Lions.

When Leon Cameron voices his desire to generate more repeat entries, these sorts of miscommunications and lapses in awareness shown last Saturday against the Lions raise more questions than answers as to how the Giants will achieve such a shift in focus.

We’ve picked one out of the many clips to highlight the issues the Giants are currently dealing with (note starting points/match-ups in the example below).

The next clip also illustrates a breakdown in the Giant’s team effort to slow Brisbane’s ball movement.

Jarrod Berry (a midfielder) drops himself in the corridor, drawing Harry Himmelberg (a forward) away from his direct opponent in Harris Andrews. Berry’s efforts to link up in defence has generated an outnumber amongst Brisbane defenders.

Just as Berry kicks, you can see Ryan Lester spread hard offensively as his direct opponent (Zac Langdon) is required to come forward to cover the next link in the chain (Andrews). The Giants are lucky on this occasion as Zac Bailey sprays his kick, leaving Lester’s efforts unrewarded. The Lions shouldn’t be able to move the ball up the ground so freely.

The major concern from that clip is how the Giants were left so vulnerable in slow-play transition following a very simple effort from a Brisbane midfielder. Berry’s effort seemingly caused a breakdown in the Giants’ defence, which could have ended up a lot worse than it did.

It’s hard to point the finger at anyone in particular, but given their current frailty in transition, it’s hard to see how changes overnight will seal the apparent holes in the Giants’ collective defence.

The forward pressure must increase

Linked with their current inability to defend in transition, the Giants are also lacking the ability or effort required to pressure their opposition’s defenders when moving the ball.

Having watched the majority of the Giants/Lions clash from last Saturday, one thing that stood out, was a lack of pressure on the Brisbane’s defenders exiting defensive 50, along with when the same defenders found themselves higher up the ground.

It’s obvious the Giants are aware of their current inability to apply pressure in their forward half given Cameron’s mid-week comments, and unlike communication breakdowns in defensive transition, applying frontal pressure in the forward half is a much easier fix to implement (if you can get the ball down there).

One source of our concern regarding the Giants’ forward pressure relates to the efforts of their talls. Last weekend against Brisbane, Harry Himmelberg recorded just six pressure acts in total (season average is considered AFL average), none of which came in the Giant’s defensive half. Jeremy Cameron also recored just five pressure acts, with his season average seeing him ranked below the competition’s average (via AFL Stats Pro).

A good example of key forwards applying pressure on their opposition’s defensive outlets can be found in our piece last week analysing the roles played by Carlton’s key forwards in their win over the Western Bulldogs. The likes of Harry McKay, Mitch McGovern and Levi Casboult helped the Blues generate a number of entries inside 50 from their pressure exploits further down the ground.

We understand Himmelberg and Cameron aren’t expected to be smothering every opposition kick inside 50, or laying the highlight chase-down tackles, but in order to generate repeat entries, or just slow their opposition’s ball movement, more must be done.

Here’s a simple example of what we think.

It’s as simple as Cameron initially marking Gardiner closer so he’s able to halve the contest and force a stoppage or GWS turnover. That’s how you stop conceding repeat entries, and begin creating your own.

On a more positive note, we even found a couple of examples where this was achieved by different GWS forwards.

Jeremy Finalyson denied Daniel Rich the opportunity to send a kick deep inside 50 with a great effort to get up the ground and force a turnover (which ends up leading to a goal).

Our second positive clip advocating for more forward pressure from GWS tall forwards, actually comes on the back end of one of our transition clips from earlier.

Gardiner receives the ball with both Daniel Rich and Grant Birchall free as handball outlets. With a bit of luck considering Gardiner’s slight fumble, Cameron (with some help from Jye Caldwell) is able to force a turnover in a situation which could have quickly seen the Giants eating dust as Brisbane move the ball forward once again. Cameron goes back and slots the goal.

Overall

The Giants have underperformed during the competition’s restart, and could possibly face similar testing times against the Tigers on Friday evening. Leon Cameron’s words during the week caught us by surprise, and with the current concerns the Giants are facing on the field, it’s hard to see how they’ll flick the switch overnight.

Mental lapses and miscommunications in defensive transition are not something you can fix quickly, but their efforts around the contest are. The Giants must start by reestablishing their dominance around the contest at stoppages in order to move the ball forward more often than not.

Pair these efforts around the contest with genuine pressure from their forward unit, and the Giants will begin to reap the rewards of spending more time in their forward half.

Just like Leon said.

ftballextension@gmail.com

(The majority of statistics used in this piece were sourced from Footywire).

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AFL Round Six: Dogs Fall Victim to Brisk Blues

(Feature image: Carlton Twitter)

Our sole focus this week was planted on the last clash of the round between Carlton and the Western Bulldogs.

We’ve touched on Carlton previously, following their Round Three win over Geelong, but felt their efforts against the Bulldogs made them worth revisiting in this week’s piece. Some of their strategies surrounding stoppages seem to have continued into their following games, which is something we’ll discuss below.

Sunday evening’s fixture on the Gold Coast has been hailed the game of the round for football fans (along with Fremantle/St Kilda), especially given its juxtaposition with Sunday afternoon’s clash between the Swans and Richmond down the road at the Gabba.

Last time these two sides met was in Round 13 last year, with both the Blues and Bulldogs able to score over 100 points. On that day, the Bulldogs came away winners by three points, despite leading by over five goals with twenty minutes gone in the final quarter.

The Blues ran away 52-point winners this time around, despite losing the inside 50 count by twelve (41 to 53). When considering the highly-lauded defensive form the Dogs were boasting (see below), the Blues’ scoring efforts are even more impressive than they first may seem.

Our piece this week will discuss a few key takeaways from the game that we believe were important in shaping the final result.

Firstly, we touch on the higher field position of Carlton’s key forwards (also forward line in general), and how this shaped the Blues’ ball movement and pressure around the ball. We also link the pressure applied by the Carlton forwards with our next discussion point.

Secondly, we revisit Carlton’s strategies around stoppages, highlighting how the Blues, despite not establishing clearance dominance over the Dogs, were able to gain value through their own actions, and limiting those of their opposition.

Finally, linked with our stoppage chat, we analyse how the Dogs struggled to utilise their spare generated from stoppages against the Blues. We have a look at a couple of varying examples where the Dogs were unable to gain enough value out of their advantage behind the ball.

If you think you’ll enjoy any of those points of discussion, or if you’ve enjoyed our previous work (i.e. last week’s breakdown of Brisbane and Port Adelaide’s stoppage structures), make sure you join our new mailing list. We’ll send out a simple email each time we release a piece, so you can keep up-to-date with what we’re seeing. Be sure to also share with your friends, colleagues or family who might share your interest in our work. You can join the list here.

Carlton’s Key Forwards Occupy Higher Field Position

From the very beginning of Sunday evening’s fixture, Carlton’s key forwards Harry McKay, Levi Casboult and Mitch McGovern were working hard to occupy a higher field position. See McKay’s first effort of the game below.

The action of forwards pushing up the ground to congest space ahead of the ball is common in today’s AFL. Forwards are commonly instructed to congest space in order to deter their opposition from finding targets in space by foot. Once space is congested, teams are forced to bail out to contests where turnovers are less damaging, or where stoppages can be forced.

To see Carlton’s efforts to get forwards ahead of the ball doesn’t come as a surprise, but their intent and personnel chosen to do so did raise our eyebrows.

McKay is the prime example from Sunday evening’s clash, having ranked equal third among both teams for total distance covered (12.4 km). On top of this impressive effort, McKay registered seven defensive half pressure acts, bucking a trend which has seen him register more than five in just one other career game (eight versus Port Adelaide, R2 2019).

McGovern and Casboult were also able to combine for four defensive half pressure acts, one of which resulted in the first goal of the game.

McKay’s first goal saw McGovern apply direct pressure at a contest on the edge of the Bulldog’s forward 50 (along with fellow forward Eddie Betts). Both McGovern and Casboult had worked their way up the field into this position, creating space behind them, in which the Blues utilised in their ball movement forward from the contest. The higher forward line held by the Blues created space for McKay to eventually mark uncontested.

The example above led to the first goal of the game, though the Blues didn’t let up, with the desire to play forwards high up the field seemingly a cornerstone of the Blues’ current gameplan.

In the example below from the fourth quarter, Carlton have once again brought a number of forwards up the ground, closer to the Bulldog’s forward 50 stoppage. The Blues are then able to utilise the space behind their forwards during offensive transition, maintaining possession as their deepest forward/s lengthen back toward goal to create further space.

Carlton’s ability to win possession at the contest, and work the ball up the ground into the space created by their forwards now lengthening back to goal, helped the side maintain possession during ball movement. With a Carlton forward often creating a +1 at stoppage or around the contest, instead of kicking long down the line to the Bulldog’s spare, Carlton were composed, utilising their outnumber advantage around the ball with their kick-mark approach.

On Sunday, the Blues continued to prefer kicking as their chosen way of disposing the ball, recording an average kick-to-handball ratio of 2.14 kicks per handball, a metric in which they lead the competition, averaging 1.91 kicks per handball in 2020 (the AFL average is 1.43).

Along with getting up the ground to create space over the back for their fellow forwards, Carlton’s key forwards especially, also provided assistance while defending in some cases.

This example comes from the first quarter, once again illustrating McKay’s early desire to push up the field in support of his teammates.

McKay is able to influence the decision-making of Bailey Williams, forcing the Bulldog’s kick-in to be sent on the more dangerous, corridor side of the marking contest as McKay has worked his way into the bail-out area to create a 2 v 1.

To be more specific, McKay worked into the front position at the contest, whilst also standing on the boundary side, where Williams would ideally wish to send the kick. Williams is then forced to kick into the corridor (to a 1 v 1), which results in a repeat entry for Carlton, and eventual goal (Casboult helps lay the tackle).

Overwhelming the Bulldogs at Stoppages

As we mentioned in Round Three, the Blues will often send a forward up into stoppages to assist their general on-ball brigade and wingers.

The most common way in which the Blues achieved this was by sending a small forward such as Michael Gibbons up into the stoppage, alongside the on-ballers (see first image below). Another way in which the Blues also generated a +1 at stoppage can be seen achieved in the second image. The Blues once again send Gibbons up into a stoppage, but this time he goes directly to an on-baller, freeing a Carlton on-baller to rotate to the back of stoppage alone.

What the Bulldogs chose to do with their spare is discussed later in this piece, but what we wish to focus on initially is the Blues’ ability to apply pressure to the Bulldog’s handball outlets at stoppages.

Both sides were able to gain ascendency at stoppages during different stages of the game, but despite this, Carlton’s consistent extra numbers around stoppage assisted with applying consistent pressure on the Bulldog’s midfielders throughout the game.

One area of concern for Carlton heading into Sunday’s clash would’ve had to been the run-and-carry the Bulldogs were able to generate off the back of stoppages and contests against North Melbourne in Round Five.

Both Jason Johannisen and Caleb Daniel enjoyed field days against the Kangaroos last week, Daniel especially.

Collecting 22 disposals, Daniel ranked fourth among all players for metres gained (409m), and boasted a contested possession rate of just 28.6%, highlighting his ability to find possession in an uncontested state. On top of all this, Daniel had a game high ten score involvements (Johannisen equal third with eight), including three score launches.

North Melbourne’s forward unit gave Daniel quite a long leash throughout their clash. As seen below, Daniel on multiple occasions, was able to work his way to the back of stoppages or contests, providing a handball outlet for his teammates, before finding a target with a clean disposal forward.

In the first clip above, North Melbourne’s deepest forwards are too slow to push up the field and occupy the space behind the contest. This allows Daniel to hold his outside positioning (not get sucked into contest) and provide an outlet for the Bulldog’s ball movement. You’ll notice Tristan Xerri (#38) arrives too late to the contest to apply any pressure on Daniel.

Carlton’s approach was a clear contrast in comparison with North Melbourne. Despite their size and mobility, the likes of McGovern, Casboult and McKay were all inclined to push higher up the field to pressure the Bulldogs outlets when required.

In the example below, Gibbons pushes up to the stoppage in order to stalk Ed Richards (the Bulldog’s sweeping wing). Out of frame, Carlton’s other forwards, including McKay, have pushed high up the ground, which assists with generating a turnover when the Bulldogs begin to chain backward out of stoppage.

Comparing this to the first Daniel example from the game against North Melbourne, you can see the clear difference in intent to pressure between McKay and Xerri. One is unable to apply pressure from a deep position, allowing Daniel to move the ball within a scoring chain, while the other illustrates how pressure up the field from forwards can have a great impact on limiting an opposition’s ability to generate inside 50s and score, whilst also enhancing their own team’s ability to score from turnovers. For reference, the Blues registered 271 pressure acts for the game, 25 more than the Bulldogs.

For Daniel specifically, he was also unable to impact the game in the same fashion he did so against the Kangaroos one week prior. Daniel’s contested possession rate jumped up to 54.5% against the Blues, illustrating the change in pressure he found himself under. This pressure around the contest was definitely one contributing factor which impacted his inability to link the Bulldog’s chains out of contests (registered just two score involvements versus Carlton).

The one time he did find himself in space, Daniel was able to play a key role in Marcus Bontempelli’s third quarter goal (despite losing the initial clearance to Gibbons). In this example, as the Bulldogs are able to generate a turnover inside defensive 50, the Blues’ forwards are unable to congest the space ahead of the ball, allowing the Bulldog’s to effectively go coast-to-coast.

Another clear example of the Blues’ intent to pressure the Bulldog’s outlets at the back of stoppages is analysed below.

Despite the passage not ending in a score for the Blues, McGovern denies Johannisen the initial handball receive from Toby McLean. This forces McLean to use his second option (Louis Butler), who unfortunately mishandles possession, giving David Cunningham the time to pressure Butler and capitalise on the turnover.

Our favourite part of this example would have to be the intent from McGovern when streaming forward. He’s absolutely flying after having pressured Johannisen out of the contest. The Blues intent was there for everyone to see.

Dogs Struggled Utilising +1

Now that you can see what Carlton were doing at stoppages, the question turns to the Bulldogs, and specifically, what did they do with their spare generated from the Blues sending a forward up into stoppages?

Well it’s not exactly clear what strategy the Bulldogs settled on, or the circumstances in which the Bulldogs would utilise one over the other.

On multiple occasions, the Bulldogs decided to keep a spare behind the ball when the likes of Gibbons pushed up into stoppages. In most cases, this spare was Alex Keath, who managed a modest eight intercept possessions and lost just one of his seven contested-one-on-ones.

With those numbers, you would expect Keath had a strong impact on the game’s proceedings, but unfortunately it was the contests he was unable to impact, which often led to Carlton hitting the scoreboard.

To ensure the Bulldog’s spare behind the ball was unable to directly impact contests and generate intercepts, Carlton had to be very disciplined with their ball movement from contested settings (and they were). Rarely did you see the Blues hack a kick forward from stoppage to the Bulldog’s outnumber, rather moving the ball laterally to maintain possession. This was helped by a lack of Bulldog’s pressure around stoppages and contests, which meant the Blues were often able to find time to maintain possession, rather than bailing out kicks to the Bulldog’s intercept players down the line.

Other than keeping a +1 behind the ball, there were also occasions when the Bulldogs sent Gibbons’ direct opponent (i.e. Caleb Daniel) with him up into the stoppages to even numbers around the contest.

In the example below, Daniel goes up to stoppage with Gibbons, leaving a 5 v 5 ahead of the ball for the Dogs to defend. Daniel is caught in two-minds at the stoppage, allowing Gibbons to win the clearance, sending the ball down the line, where 9/10 times you’d bank on Easton Wood spoiling his third-man-up effort. This one time, Wood fails to impact the contest, with the ball spilling into McGovern’s (Wood’s direct opponent) path. The Bulldogs are lucky not to concede a goal from this passage.

Overall

We’ve touched on a couple of different aspects from Sunday evening’s Carlton win that link nicely with one another.

Carlton’s key forward brigade pushing up the field and applying pressure at the contest helped Carlton create space for their kick-dominant ball movement to take place cleanly.

While the majority of Carlton’s forwards pushed up the ground to create space in and behind them, the role of their deepest forward/s, and their ability to lengthen once Carlton won possession, afforded Carlton even more space ahead of the ball, whilst also negating the potential intercept ability of the Bulldog’s spare defender.

By pressuring the Bulldog’s handball outlets out of contests and stoppages, Carlton were able to limit the Bulldog’s run-and-carry from the likes of Daniel and Johannisen. This also created turnover opportunities, in which Carlton could quickly move the ball and score.

Given these scenarios created by the Blues pushing forwards up the ground, the Bulldogs struggled to impact the game through their spare behind the ball. In comparison, the likes of Michael Gibbons and Jack Martin, who rolled up to stoppages, were able to impact the game directly, either through their pressure (19 defensive half pressure acts between them, game average per player 6.11), or on the scoreboard (two goals each).

Once again, if you’ve enjoyed this week’s piece and are interested in what we may have coming in the pipeline, be sure to join our new mailing list. As always, we’re still on twitter (@ftballextension), and you can also reach us via the email below.

ftballextension@gmail.com

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AFL Round Five: Wings, Structure & Spread (Bri/Pta).

Brisbane’s win over Port Adelaide impressed onlookers, and rightly so. The Lions’ class shone across the field with the Power offering little in return.

Down back, the likes of Charlie Dixon and Justin Westhoff were kept quiet, while at the other end of the ground, Charlie Cameron and Daniel McStay filled highlight reels shown on the Sunday morning news.

Lachie Neale and the Lions midfield brigade also enjoyed a good day at the office, though in Port Adelaide’s case, the Powers’ midfield engine also highlighted the abundance of talent and versatility they possess.

Despite a disappointing final margin, the Power won 62% of all stoppage clearances for the game (31 to 19), which really provided the initial interest for delving into the game’s replay.

In this week’s review piece, we spend some time analysing the stoppage structures utilised by both teams at the Gabba on Saturday night, focusing especially on the role of each side’s wingmen, and their corresponding impact.

We have a look at how Port Adelaide managed to generate clearances and spread from stoppages in the first quarter through the likes of Karl Amon, Kane Farrell and Zak Butters, before highlighting a change made by the Lions in the second quarter which led to a much improved performance at stoppage.

This shift in strategy helped the Lions wrestle momentum in the second and third quarter, when the damage on the scoreboard was inflicted, despite certain efforts by the Power.

We finally touch on a last quarter mixup from Ken Hinkley’s coaching staff, which illustrated a glimpse of hope heading into the remainder of the 2020 season.

Q1: Outside Balance & Spread from Power

The first quarter painted a much different picture to that of the following three quarters.

During the first quarter, Port Adelaide were able to generate seven scoring shots from thirteen inside 50s, while Brisbane managed just three shots on goal from their nine entries. One reason the Power were able to generate more entries and shots on goal in the first quarter, stemmed from their supremacy in and around stoppages.

The power won nine stoppage clearances in the first quarter, compared with the Lions’ three. Inside, the likes of Sam Powell-Pepper, Ollie Wines and Travis Boak started the game strongly, but the impact of the Power’s wingmen in the game’s opening proceedings cannot be understated.

Stoppage structure in the first quarter saw both teams allow their sweeping wingman to play free at stoppages (see below). Given the perceived strength of Brisbane’s starting wingmen (Hugh McCluggage and Mitch Robinson) compared with the Power (Amon and Farrell), it’s likely Brisbane decided to bet on their wingmen having a greater impact than the Powers’, which was not the case in the first quarter.

On a number of occasions, the Powers’ wingmen were able to provide handball outlets for their side’s on-ballers. In the first quarter alone, Port Adelaide’s wingmen generated a third of the Powers’ total clearances, while their direct opposition were unable to register a single clearance combined.

The importance of wings providing outlets at stoppages around the ground varies among teams depending on a number of factors (ball movement tendencies and midfield strength are just a couple). Clearly for the Power, their desire to move the ball cleanly and quickly from stoppages sees them place a greater reliance on the likes of Amon and Farrell to move the ball from contested to uncontested states of play.

The example below provides a clear example of how Amon is used as a handball outlet to help generate a clearance. Also be sure to note Farrell’s effort spreading from stoppage to generate a shot on goal (we discuss below).

Amon and Farrell especially in the first quarter did a good job of providing outside balance at stoppages, while Lions’ players such as McCluggage and Robinson often found themselves drifting into congestion. This tendency to drift into and congest stoppages, is then exacerbated by the Powers’ wings, who by providing outside balance, are then able to be used as outlets to move the ball cleanly and quickly from stoppages.

In the example below, McCluggage is caught drifting (slightly) into congestion without making a direct impact. This allows Farrell to occupy a slightly less congested space on the outside and provide the handball outlet from the stoppage, which generates an entry inside 50, followed by a score.

Finally, as well as generating clearances and achieving stoppage balance, the Powers’ wingmen also managed to beat their direct opponents spreading from stoppages on a number of occasions during the first quarter (Farrell in the first clip).

The Powers’ spread made it hard for the Lions to contain and defend their opposition’s ball movement, as the Power’s wingmen and midfielders worked hard into wide areas to open up the middle of the ground for their teammates. Example below.

Unfortunately for the Power, changes made by the Lions at the first break helped limit any further damage created by the likes of Amon and Farrell especially as the game went on.

Q2: Lions Quell Sweeping Wing and Improve Spread

Brisbane came out of the first break with a clear change in plans around stoppage. Around the ground they would now send their sweeping wing to mark the Powers’, in order to hopefully limit any potential handball outlets. See our first example below, noting that McCluggage has shifted his starting position from the coloured circle on the right of screen, to now sit beside Amon who remains in the same sweeping position from the first quarter.

Such a decision by Brisbane’s coaching staff to play their sweeping wing man-on-man likely was in order to force Port Adelaide to win their clearances on the inside of stoppages where the likes of Neale, Berry and Lyons can provide strong opposition. In doing so, Brisbane, with enough pressure at the source, are now able to force any Port Adelaide clearances into quick kicks down the line, or pressured handballs, rather than the clean possession chains the Power were able to generate in the first quarter through their wing outlets.

Overall, in the second quarter Brisbane won seven stoppage clearances to the Powers’ six. While not an emphatic victory, the Lions successfully quelled the Power’s initial run and carry from stoppages, slowing their ball movement and ability to generate entries inside 50 (Brisbane had eighteen I50s versus Port Adelaide’s five in Q2).

Brisbane’s Zac Bailey also began to see more time on the wing in the second quarter, hitting the scoreboard with a goal, which began to shift the Powers’ wing mindset to one more defensive than the first quarter.

McCluggage also began to rectify his quiet first quarter, collecting seven disposals and making his presence felt around stoppages.

Along with matching the Power at stoppages, the Lions were also able to beat the Power on the spread across the ground. With the ball travelling in Brisbane’s direction for what felt like the entire quarter, Brisbane’s wingmen were able to push into dangerous space offensively, putting their direct opponents under significant pressure.

In the example below it seems Bailey is either sent directly to Boak, or is out of position. Either way, Brisbane are still without a sweeping wing, while Port Adelaide has Brad Ebert playing their sweeping role. The stills below, along with the footage illustrate a hard spreading Brisbane midfield, while also highlighting a lack of discipline defensively from Port Adelaide’s midfield group in the second quarter.

It’s clear the decision by Brisbane to play wing-on-wing in the second quarter assisted with their stronger presence at stoppages. Without the ability to generate ball movement from stoppages, Port Adelaide were unable to generate field position, and subsequently, entries inside 50.

Q3: Brisbane Unfazed by Power’s +1

The third quarter followed a similar pattern to that of the second quarter. Neither team established supremacy in and around stoppages (Lions three stoppage clearances, Power five), but where the wing battle was won, was on the scoreboard, with both McCluggage and Robinson slotting goals.

In the first case (close your eyes Brad Ebert), McCluggage and Ebert spread toward a contest inside the Lions’ forward 50. Ebert decides to fly for an intercept mark, missing it quite convincingly. McCluggage on the other hand preferred to remain at ground level, getting into a dangerous front-and-centre position before kicking an easy goal.

Before sharing Robinson’s third quarter goal, the Power altered their strategy, as they begun to send a winger behind the ball to act as a defensive +1. The Power would then send a forward up onto the wing, providing the Lions with a defensive +1 too. If you were wondering where Port Adelaide’s wingman was at centre bounces during the second half like the one below, hopefully this helps explain.

Unfortunately for Port Adelaide, generating a +1 in defence provided little support in any potential comeback. In the third quarter, the Power generated eleven intercept possessions, one less than the Lions. The sequence where Robinson kicks a goal below provides an example of the Powers’ defensive +1 (Riley Bonner in this case) having zero impact on the chain. This was due to a combination of poor positioning and the Lions’ ability to move the ball quickly, limiting Bonner’s ability to get back and provide cover at the contest inside 50.

In addition to Bonner’s inability to influence the contest, my guess is that Connor Rozee was the Port Adelaide forward tasked with moving up onto the wing to mark Robinson.

Bailey and Robinson’s spread forward puts ample pressure on both Amon and Rozee to reciprocate the effort and defend.

Q4: Power Showcase Young Dynamism

If you’re still reading this, thanks for persisting with plenty of examples and content to trudge through.

The final quarter saw a glimpse of potential the Power can take into the remainder of the season.

At stoppages the Power begun to send a forward into the mix of on-ballers, and by doing so, dragged a Brisbane defender up with them.

The Power enjoyed success with this strategy, as the likes of Butters, who was now playing forward, could drag his direct opponent with him to a stoppage up the ground to provide additional assistance to the Powers’ midfield. Once a clearance was won, Butters would push hard offensively, outworking his opponent back to goal. This strategy created a number of scoring opportunities in the last quarter (one example below).

Though the Power didn’t necessarily dominate the quarter (four scores to the Lions’ three), the dynamism of players such as Butters, Rozee and Daniel Houston, provide the Powers’ midfield with much needed versatility considering the similar physical profiles of Boak, Wines and Rockliff (not necessarily lightening quick). In the final quarter Houston generated three stoppage clearances alone.

Defenders such as Rich and Callum Ah Chee (who was also put in similar positions at stoppages during the quarter) are not players who excel in a contested setting. Butters especially was able make Rich more accountable by bringing him up to stoppages in the final quarter. In these situations, Rich is then afforded less time to use his great kick to open up an opposition’s defensive shape.

Power supporters should keep their eye out for any continuing trends against the Giants this Sunday.

Overall

On paper, Saturday evening’s clash against the form sides of the competition’s restart seemed miles apart considering the final margin.

Upon rewatching, the Powers’ efforts around stoppages in the first quarter were impressive, as Amon and Farrell outworked the likes of McCluggage and Robinson at the contest, and on the outside as well.

Equally impressive though, was the Lions’ ability to reassess their strategies at quarter time and rectify an issue that could have gotten a lot worse before better considering the Powers’ waywardness in front of goal during the first quarter.

It can be argued that the Power were able to reestablish their dominance around stoppage in the final quarter, winning the clearance count eleven to five, highlighting a potential reliance on ball movement from stoppages for the Power moving forward.

A great way to sum up the varying impacts of each team’s players discussed in this piece, is provided by @AFLPlayerRating (well worth a follow).

As you can see, players like McCluggage, Robinson and Bailey all endured quiet first quarters, before returning to much better form either side of halftime. On the other hand, Amon and Farrell enjoyed strong starts to the game, before dropping off as Brisbane began to exert their dominance. Houston also finished the game well, with his strongest performance coming in the final quarter.

All in all, we hope you’ve enjoyed a dive into the roles of an AFL wingman in modern football, along with some analysis of the different strategies implemented by the sides around stoppages in general. Feel free to get in touch if there’s anything you’d like to discuss.

ftballextension@gmail.com

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Collingwood & Essendon: What to make of tonight’s fixture?

(Picture: Getty Images).

Given we were able to churn out our Round Four review of Adelaide’s forward structure a little earlier this week, we’ve decided to take the chance to provide some small insights into what we’re looking at with regard to the Round Five clash between Essendon and Collingwood.

A lot of what we talk about below is not necessarily what we think will happen, but rather ideas, strategies, structures and methods we think these sides may have discussed during the week.

Matchups and some of their implications

The biggest questions looming over this evening’s clash seem to be focused on the performance Darcy Moore, and whether he can replicate the actions of his injured teammate Jeremy Howe in the coming months. Pressure has been heaped on Moore’s shoulders, but given the overall solidity of Collingwood’s defensive unit, Moore’s role will be made much easier with support from the likes of Brayden Maynard, Jordan Roughead and Matt Scharenberg.

Given Roughead will likely line up next to Shaun McKernan, we expect either Maynard or Scharenberg to mark Jake Stringer. By naming Scharenberg, Collingwood’s versatility in their defensive half will free up Moore to play on one of Essendon’s least dangerous forwards. For his size, Moore is an exceptional defender at ground-level, which compliments his elite intercepting ability.

Last week Carlton enjoyed success in deploying a similar strategy. The Blues would send a tall defender (also decent at ground-level) to one of Essendon’s smaller forwards, whilst also giving him permission to drop off his direct opponent when he felt necessary.

The Carlton defender would initially defend his direct opponent if they were occupying dangerous space. Once they felt their opponent was not dangerous, they would drop off to create intercept opportunities.

The below example sees Liam Jones starting the second quarter on Devon Smith. Jones goes up to the initial contest with Smith before dropping off to intercept the eventual reentry inside 50. Jacob Weitering also does a solid job of sealing out McKernan from the contest.

Last season Collingwood ranked third for average intercept differential, and given their backline (minus Howe) is built in similar fashion this season, the Pies’ ability to intercept must be a key area of concern for Essendon heading into tonight’s clash.

It’s easy to see Moore replicating such behaviour this evening given his versatility and game awareness. Moore is comfortable following smaller forwards into contests or stoppages, but is also incredibly good at reading the situation, and dropping off if he deems his opponent is unlikely to gain possession or score.

Essendon inside 50…

I guess this subheading is basically doubling down on our initial stance, but we’ve got genuine concerns about Essendon’s forward personnel (especially in the air).

Last season the Bombers struggled to generate marks inside their forward 50, managing a mark every 5.39 entries, ranking them last in the AFL.

There’s obvious reasons why that may be the case, considering Essendon was missing the likes of Joe Daniher for the majority of 2019, but adding to these concerns, the Bombers also ranked 16th for percentage of team shots taken between 0-24 metres (2018-19 seasons combined, statistics sourced from StatsInsider). They’re also still without Daniher.

As the Bombers were lacking the ability to either generate deep inside 50s or capitalise on them (with marks or scores), it’s no surprise Essendon also ranked 14th for scoring efficiency last season.

Could Collingwood be up for a field day in their defensive half tonight? There’s a good chance, but it’s also 2020, and no one really knows…

What will Essendon do if there’s a spare?

We’re asking you. We don’t really know.

It’s hard to sometimes understand whether a team is generating a spare in defence, or whether actions by the other team are generating the spare for them.

In the case we discuss below, Carlton’s decision to move Marc Murphy up to the stoppage has directly generated Essendon’s spare for them. Essendon have then made the decision to keep the spare, rather than sending their +1 up to the stoppage with Murphy. This strategy is something we discussed in our Round Three piece, using Carlton’s Michael Gibbons as another example.

Last week against Carlton, Essendon generated a spare in defence when Carlton sent a forward up to stoppages (especially in the second half). In the example below, instead of manning up Murphy (currently forward) at the stoppage, Essendon have decided to keep their spare behind the ball.

Essendon’s decision on who would remain spare varied. Adam Saad was often Murphy’s (or Gibbons who also would come up to stoppage in same role) direct opponent, and therefore would play spare himself. Other times, Essendon would reshuffle matchups to isolate someone better in the air such as Michael Hurley or Jordan Ridley in order to stem Carlton’s contested marking ability.

Why is any of this relevant to this week’s game?

Given Collingwood’s likely desire to generate a spare in defence (Moore), the Pies could utilise a number of different strategies to do so. Essendon must therefore have prepared a number of contingencies, which we’ve tried to examine below.

Considering a traditional stoppage setup with three onballers, and both sweeping/corridor wings, we think Collingwood may look to generate a spare from stoppages. They could achieve this by sending a forward up to some stoppages like Carlton does in the example above (i.e. throw-in, Pies’ forward half).

Rather than generate a spare at the actual stoppage like Carlton, we think Collingwood would also then potentially drop a wingman such as Chris Mayne into defensive 50, taking Moore’s direct matchup. Considering Mayne’s versatility and experience down back for Collingwood, he poses as an ideal candidate to move onto Moore’s direct opponent in these situations, freeing Moore to play as spare. Depending on whether he plays down back or also up on the wing, Travis Varcoe could be another potential candidate for such a role.

In this hypothetical situation, the question is, do Essendon send a player forward to deny Collingwood the ability to play Moore as a spare? We think probably not…

In all likelihood, Essendon will allow Collingwood to generate a spare in defence, as it will also provide Essendon with a spare at stoppage, or behind the ball as well.

If something similar to what we’ve mentioned above happens, Essendon will either have their potential spare in defence (if the Bombers’ defender doesn’t follow the Pies’ forward into stoppage), or at stoppage (if they Bombers’ defender follows the forward, and Pies’ wing drops defensively).

The Bombers may choose to keep any potential spare at stoppage given their injuries and the strength of Collingwood’s midfield. An extra player at stoppages for the Bombers may help generate clearances and win field position. It really depends on what the Bombers value.

On the other hand, Essendon may choose to deploy any potential spare in similar fashion to Collingwood, generating a loose man in defence. Both Redman and Ridley have enjoyed varying success in such roles, though given their likely matchups with the likes of Elliot, Hoskin-Elliot or Stephenson, their responsibilities may lie elsewhere.

Finally, if Collingwood are able to generate a spare in their defensive half, Essendon may choose to push a wingman forward, replacing the winger at stoppage with whichever Essendon defender comes up to the stoppage initially. This would see Essendon with seven forwards to match Collingwood’s seven defenders, limiting the Pies’ ability to intercept.

On the flip side, this would then see Collingwood’s forward setup resemble a five vs five ahead of the ball, providing the Pies’ forwards with more space to work with. The likelihood Essendon play with seven forwards to even any outnumber in Collingwood’s defensive half is quite low.

What would we like to see?

We wouldn’t mind seeing Essendon release Adam Saad as spare.

Despite lacking aerial talent, Saad could play a similar role to that of Sam Docherty at Carlton, or Daniel Rich at Brisbane (Rich plays this role in the first example of our R4 piece). These types of spares tend to occupy space in behind an opposition’s forward set-up, almost like a sweeper, compared with a traditional spare (Moore) who will sit amongst the opposition’s forward setup in order to impact any aerial contest following a stoppage.

The sweeping spare is usually a player who has a greater influence by foot, rather than in the air. They seem to hold the deepest defensive position in order to be utilised in case the team’s defensive setup can generate a turnover. The spare is then released into space on the other side of the field, which would suit a player like Saad who can spread quickly and use the ball by foot.

Overall

We’ve spent most of the time talking in hypotheticals as we’ve left this piece to the last minute (if that’s not obvious). There’s some incoherent tangents we’ve run out of time to edit.

In summary, we’re curious what Essendon will do about Collingwood’s intercept ability in the defensive half.

Considering Essendon’s weakness up forward, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be comfortable allowing Moore to pick off entry after entry. This piece has hopefully explained a couple of alternatives the Bombers could utilise.

Will Collingwood play Moore as spare, or are they comfortable playing him off one of Essendon’s smaller forwards?

Will Essendon deny Collingwood any chance of creating a spare? Or will the Bombers be happy to also have a spare at stoppage to assist their depleted midfield?

Let’s find out soon.

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Breakdown Example: Essendon’s Miscommunication

We’ve stumbled across a clip that grabbed our attention from Essendon’s Round Four clash with Carlton. The clip provides a quick, simple example of a communication breakdown, leading to the Blue’s mark inside 50.

We published the breakdown via a twitter thread you can see here, but we thought we’d also upload the same content to our site for any readers absent from Twitter (plus we don’t have much content on this site).

The Bombers will be hoping to rectify these types of communication breakdowns versus Collingwood this week given the aerial presence of Mason Cox and Brody Mihocek. Players like Jamie Elliot and Will Hoskin-Elliot also provide options aerially for the Pies. In this example, both Hurley and Hooker are caught defending much smaller opposition (Michael Gibbons and Eddie Betts), allowing Carlton to utilise such mismatches, taking an easy mark inside 50.

The whole clip is below, followed by a breakdown of key moments in the sequence.

Key moments to consider

1. Hurley’s matchup & position

Carlton have possession from an Essendon out-on-the-full kick. Numbers are even ahead of the ball with six forwards versus six defenders. Essendon have a good mismatch with Hurley marked by Gibbons (circled). Essendon must ensure they maximise this mismatch by providing Hurley a clean run & jump at the intercept mark.

2. Communication breakdown between lines

Communication between Dylan Shiel & Mason Redman (circled) breaks down as Redman attempts to contain both Marc Murphy (Shiel’s direct opponent) and Jack Martin. 

Considering the position on the field with a long kick inside 50 expected, this at first doesn’t seem pivotal, but what follows next leads to a mark inside 50.

3. Martin utilises space to stretch Essendon defence

Martin (circled with arrow) identifies the potential 2v1 he and Murphy have created. He pushes back into space toward the boundary. Shiel and Redman scramble to cover.

Down the line, Casboult receives a block from his teammate, which forces a handover. The undersized Ridley is now on Casboult. Hooker, matched with Betts, should look to handover Betts to Ridley, but the Bomber’s defensive awareness is lacking.

4. Space opens up inside 50

Hurley, Essendon’s best intercept defender, becomes distracted by Martin’s isolation in forward 50. The mixup between Shiel and Redman has dragged Hurley away from the incoming contest, leaving a hole in front of Casboult to lead into. Given the difficulty of the kick that would be required to find Martin uncontested, Hurley should’ve held his position in order to intercept or spoil. This could also be rectified by Essendon communication coming from behind, urging Hurley to forget Martin.

5. The final product

Ridley (circled at back of contest) loses Casboult with the ball in the air. Hooker failed to handover Betts, despite matching Casboult’s physical profile better.

Hurley (circled on right) shifted his full attention to Martin, rendering him useless in any marking contest. Martin, along with Murphy have successfully capitalised on an Essendon communication breakdown between midfielder and defender. 

Now that you’ve followed along with our breakdown of the sequence, scroll up and rewatch the initial clip. We hope the points we’ve highlighted provide you with an insight into potential impact of communication breakdowns, especially in the defensive half.

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AFL Round Four: Tall Crows Fail to Fly

We’ve reached the third week of the AFL’s restart, and as the fixture falls to pieces around us, I’ve decided to take the time to rewatch Brisbane’s convincing win over Adelaide from the weekend.

To label the Lions win over the Crows as ‘convincing’ is likely a gross understatement. Despite the Lions winning by 37 points, the Lions generated 33 scoring shots to Adelaide’s eleven, with the expected score margin reflecting an 82-point Lions win (@StatosphereAFL via Herald Sun Online).

Before the first ball was bounced at the Gabba, questions regarding the Crows’ team selection were circulating. Onlookers were left scratching their heads as the Crows selected Billy Frampton to line up beside Crows key-forward pairing Taylor Walker and Darcy Fogarty.

The Crows doubled down on their selection the morning of Sunday’s fixture, as Fogarty was pulled from the side after injuring his shoulder in Friday’s training session, and was subsequently replaced by key-forward Elliott Himmelberg.

Given their struggles as a team to apply pressure in the forward half, naming three key-forwards was a bold strategy to implement by the Crows, but one likely born from their desire to stem Brisbane’s strength in the air.

By naming the three key-forwards for Sunday’s game, the Crows were likely banking on a strengthened aerial presence, attempting to limit the Lions ability to intercept. In 2019, the Lions ranked second for average intercept possession differential (+4.2 per game), and had started 2020 in similar fashion.

The Lions premier intercept defender Harris Andrews led the competition for total intercept possessions at the end of Round Three, having accumulated 31 intercepts in total (10.33 per game). Backing up Andrews were Ryan Lester (six intercepts per game), Darcy Gardiner and Brandon Starcevich (both 6.67 intercepts per game), who had also started the season strongly.

The Crows may have also been banking on stretching the Lions defence with height, as Lester (192cm) was forced to defend Frampton (202cm) or Himmelberg (200cm) at times while Riley O’Brien was in the ruck.

The Crows, like many other teams in the AFL as we speak, struggle to move the ball from defensive 50. The Crows currently lead the competition for average rebound 50 differential, highlighting the time spent in their defensive half. Couple this with their 18th-ranked average mark differential (-34.3), and it’s clear the Crows are struggling to rebound from their defensive half whilst also maintaining possession.

These struggles will often lead to the Crows sending bail-out kicks down the line, which is a problem in itself, as Adelaide also average -6.8 contested marks compared with their opposition (ranked last). This means the Crows (in bail-out settings) are either conceding contested marks to their opposition, or bringing the ball to ground. If the Crows are able to achieve the latter, Adelaide rank last in both contested possession and clearance differentials, meaning they’re unlikely to win these ground balls, or a clearance if a stoppage is forced.

These poor rankings provide further evidence as to why the Crows may have gone taller in Round Four. The need for a stronger presence in these bail-out settings was clear, but considering what we saw took place on Sunday, these efforts were ineffective.

In the end, a glimpse of effort shown in the third quarter was the Crows’ only real shining light on Sunday. Beaten at the contest convincingly, Adelaide also showed little form in the air, which is what we’ve chosen to focus on below.

Adelaide’s aerial presence

Having named the plethora of tall talent for Sunday’s game, the Crows in theory, should have offered a far greater contest in those bail-out situations mentioned above.

Figures from the weekend paint a different picture, as Walker, Himmelberg and Frampton all failed to register a single contested mark for the game. This is considerably poor as fourteen different Lions’ players were able to clunk a contested mark, including a combined six from key-defenders Andrews and Lester alone.

Having rewatched the game, there are a number of examples we’ve taken the time to highlight.

Firstly, in this example below, Brisbane have generated a +1 behind the ball (Daniel Rich). This has therefore released an Adelaide player at the Crows’ defensive 50 stoppage to roam free (see red circles).

Secondly, the Crows have structured their six forwards in a 3-2-1 formation ahead of the ball, with Walker positioned as the deepest forward. Both Frampton and Himmelberg (see pink circles) are positioned on the boundary side of the formation to provide an aerial presence in any bail-out situation (as these kicks are coached to be placed closer to the boundary in order to increase the likelihood of forcing a stoppage).

Thirdly, Adelaide have set-up with their small forwards on the corridor side of the forward structure (see green circles). This contrasts the role of Frampton and Himmelberg, as the smaller forwards are better suited to spread quickly into the space out of frame on the left of the screen if the Crows are able to generate a rebound 50 into space, rather than down the line.

Having highlighted Adelaide’s forward structure ahead of the ball, the reason we picked this example as first cab off the rank, is to highlight Frampton’s failure to provide support aerially.

Frampton doesn’t fly for a mark in this contest (nor could he given the trajectory of the kick), but considering he’s marked by the competition’s best intercept defender in Andrews, Frampton must ensure Andrews is unable to drop off and fly for a mark (this becomes a common trend throughout the game). Frampton is slow to read the flight of the ball, making him irrelevant in the marking contest, and therefore encourages a smart player like Andrews to drop off his direct opponent and float across to almost intercept Sloane’s kick down the line.

The second example we look at comes in the final quarter. There were plenty of other examples in between, but we chose this one as it provides a simple example of the Crows’ talls lacking an aerial presence, or the ability to communicate and maximise their value in these settings.

The Crows send their kick-in down the line, with Frampton in position to take an uncontested mark. With Himmelberg also in the vicinity of the contest, he must do better to seal Gardiner (his direct opponent) out of the marking contest. Instead, Himmelberg allows Gardiner to pressure Frampton, eventually spoiling the ball back into the Lions’ forward 50. The kick to the contest doesn’t necessarily favour the Crows’ talls, but considering the 2 v 1 outnumber they’ve generated in this contested setting, simple communication and effort would garner a much better result.

Below the knees

To compile a lack of aerial presence, as expected, pressure when the ball hit the ground, especially in Adelaide’s forward 50, was always going to be difficult considering their choices at team selection.

In addition to the zero contested marks taken by Adelaide’s forward trio, not one of the three were able to lay a tackle inside 50 either, with just Himmelberg the only key-forward laying a tackle for the entire game (Walker and Frampton both zero).

We’re not saying we expected a pressure clinic from any of the key forwards, but considering their efforts in the air were lacking, their inability to pressure Brisbane’s defenders on the ground meant their selection in the side proved even more questionable than previously thought.

Obviously with the ball spending less time inside the Crows’ forward 50, it would naturally be harder to record a tackle in this space. On Sunday, the Lions generated 61 inside 50s compared to the Crows’ 28. Overall, the Lions also generated nineteen tackles inside forward 50, compared to the Crows’ five.

When combining these two numbers, Adelaide averaged a tackle inside 50 every seventh entry, their second worse performance in 2020 (7.5 entries per tackle I50 versus Port Adelaide). Brisbane’s average works out to be a tackle inside 50 every 3.21 entries, much better than that of the Crows, illustrating a rather stark difference in forward 50 pressure.

There were always going to be limitations with the ground-level pressure players like Himmelberg, Frampton and Walker could place on Brisbane’s defenders. To make up for this lack of pressure on the ground, emphasis on providing strong aerial support intensifies, which unfortunately made their lacklustre performance even more apparent.

Lions continue to intercept

A natural continuation from the lack of aerial presence and forward pressure by the Crows, was the noticeable impact Brisbane’s key intercept defenders were able to have on the game.

The Lions managed a total intercept differential of nineteen in their favour, with Lester (eight), Andrews (six), Gardiner and Starcevic (both five) combining for 24 intercept possessions, as each player continued their strong form mentioned earlier in this piece.

Unaware what the exact expectations the Crows’ coaching staff had for their key-forwards, our best guess would be that phrases such as ‘compete in the air’, ‘bring the ball to ground’, or even ‘create a contest’ would have been common in pre-game discussions.

It would be hard to reflect positively on any of these hypothetical expectations. In some cases, even smaller Brisbane defenders such as Daniel Rich (career average of 0.2 contested marks per game) were able to intercept mark over their taller Adelaide opposition.

With this example coming in the first quarter, a terrible tone was set from very early on.

In other cases, similar to that of this piece’s first clip where Andrews drops off Frampton to almost intercept, the Crows failed to seal out one another’s direct opponents. I’ve compiled some of the best examples to drive this point home.

The first clip sees Andrews once again able to drop off his direct opponent (Himmelberg) to intercept mark over Walker and Frampton (whose direct opponent was the undersized Grant Birchall). When playing on elite intercept players such as Andrews, leading into poor areas is a recipe for disaster, with Himmelberg better off initiating body contact with Andrews, and limiting his ability to drop off and create a +1 like he does in this case.

There are positive signs for the Crows in this second clip, as both Frampton and Himmelberg combine down the line to move the Crows inside 50. Though, with Walker off the ground at this point in the game, having the young key-forward pairing push so high up the ground, left the Crows with just O’Brien down the line when entering forward 50. Despite Frampton’s effort to get into a marking position on the last kick inside 50, Andrews, who was able to handover the mark on Frampton’s initial mark to teammate Daniel McStay, eventually intercepts over O’Brien, having lost Frampton in transition between contests thanks to the handover.

We finish things off with another simple intercept by Andrews over Frampton. This is purely a case of illustrating the big difference in experience between the pair. Unfortunately for Himmelberg and Frampton, playing on elite opponents only makes your mistakes more apparent. It’s not an easy task to contain someone of Andrews’ quality, especially given Frampton and Himmelberg combined have managed just the fourteen AFL games.

Support from fellow forwards

Support for Adelaide’s key-forwards was also a factor in their limited impact on the game. I don’t want readers to think Adelaide’s key-forwards were the central reason for the team’s performance on Sunday. Given their relevant AFL experience, the task to contain a quality Brisbane defence was always going to be difficult, and this was often exacerbated by a lack of support from their fellow forwards.

At times throughout the game when Adelaide had just two of their three key-forwards on the field, Brisbane’s best intercept players, mainly Lester, were forced to play on smaller opposition who also struggled to contain the Lion’s defenders.

In the example below, Adelaide’s Tom Lynch drops off his direct opponent Lester to get front and centre at a forward 50 marking contest. There’s merit in Lynch making such a decision, but given the damage Lester had already done aerially, Lynch’s initial focus must be to stem Lester’s intercept potential.

Lester, who was gifted a free run and jump at the intercept mark, dashes any valuable chance for Frampton or Walker to impact the contest, and could have easily been restricted if Lynch had provided support in the form of a seal for his teammates.

If Adelaide have decided to bank on the presence of the key-forwards they select, teammates must do better to maximise these players value. This is not achieved by allowing your direct opposition to intercept mark over said key-forwards.

In the second example, which occurred earlier in the game from an Adelaide kick-in, Ben Crocker attempts to separate from Lester (his direct opponent), and provide a target for Laird to kick to. See red circle below.

Lester senses Crocker’s half-hearted lead, and once it’s clear that Crocker won’t be used by Laird, Lester reacts the quicker of the two, dropping back in front of O’Brien to intercept mark. Lester is then able to launch an eventual repeat entry inside 50, leading to a Lions score.

It’s hard to imagine Laird kicking to Crocker in a 1 v 1 situation against a better aerial player in Lester. Crocker’s awareness for what Lester often attempts to do (dropping off his opponent to create an outnumber) is lacking, which when combined with his effort to recover and defend his direct opponent, leads to easy turnovers generated by the Lions.

Though this example doesn’t necessarily highlight a lack of support for one of Adelaide’s key forwards as O’Brien is the player eventually marked over, it’s clear the tendencies on show by fellow Adelaide forwards reflect a greater problem for the Crows ahead of the ball.

Overview

Adelaide’s decision to name three key-forwards for their Round Four clash against Brisbane raised questions from the outset.

Though its understandable that the Crows may have targeted limiting the Lions intercept ability, the lack of aerial presence provided by these talls, meant there lack of versatility was also out in the open for everyone to see.

In defence of young Frampton and Himmelberg, who between them have only played fourteen games, the task of competing against the Lion’s defensive unit is no easy feat, with more experienced players also struggling to cope in similar matchups.

The lack of aerial presence by Adelaide’s key-forwards was made worse considering the efforts of supporting Crows’ forwards.

As mentioned previously in this piece, if the Crows were striving to maximise value in aerial contests, Adelaide’s other forwards must provide better support in order for this value to be realised.

What else is happening at ftballextension?

Well this is the quickest we’ve turned around a piece as of yet, so we could potentially have some more work on the way soon.

If there’s anything in particular anyone would like to read about, or discuss, our email is below, and we’re also around on Twitter (@ftballextension).

Thanks to AFL twitter veteran Robert Younger, who gave our page some exposure via the thread below on Saturday. We experienced a big uptick in followers, along with some extra traction on the site itself. Be sure to check out some of the other work Robert mentions in his thread. There’s some great work related to AFL floating around as we speak.

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