It’s crunch time for the AFL clubs in finals and flag contention – and most of them have several issues to address and fix before September.
Triple premiership Lion Jonathan Brown told Fox Footy’s On The Couch Geelong and Melbourne had “separated” themselves from the chasing pack, while Melbourne champion Garry Lyon said the way the Sydney Swans had been winning of late suggested they can be “added to the group”.
So the On The Couch panel, with the help of Champion Data, on Monday night discussed the concerns at seven clubs in the finals mix and their issues that would be “keeping coaches up at night”.
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The Lions have slipped out of the top four – and now face a tough task to get back in there.
They’ve gone 5-5 from their past 10 games, while they’re 4-4 against top-10 teams across the entire season so far.
St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt pointed to several alarming Champion Data rankings around the Lions’ defensive profile.
Since Round 10, the Lions have been ranked 16th for points against, 15th for opposition scores per inside 50, 13th for points against from turnovers, 14th for points against from clearances and, of most concern, 18th for points against from defensive half.
“We know offence hasn’t been their issue of late. It’s the fact that they’re getting scored against so heavily, particularly from the defensive half,” Riewoldt told On The Couch.
“This hasn’t been a major issue for them over the last few years. Defensively they’ve been so strong, so in a year where we all thought they’ll take the next step, this was not part of the game that they could afford to drop away, which it has dramatically.”
“It’s clearly not just the defensive half of the ground where the struggles are or the back six – it’s all over the ground. So defending ball movement and not exposing your back six.”
Brown questioned whether the Lions’ forwards were wired to prioritise hitting the scoreboard, rather than applying pressure.
“Teams are able to move the ball from the Lions’ forward half, so clearly they’re not putting enough pressure on there,” he said.
“The other thing is the five or six forwards at the Lions are thinking: ‘For me to bring value to the team, in my own mind, I need to kick two or three goals today’ – thinking about themselves. I’m not sure where the focus lies there and where the balance lies between kicking goals and putting the defensive pressure on and playing a role for the team and making my teammate better.
“I’m just seeing some little things along the way, so that’s a watch.”
Like Brisbane, the Dockers have fallen out of the top four and now face an uphill battle to earn a double chance for September.
Lyon said the Dockers looked “unimaginative” and “passive” in their most recent performance against Melbourne. They now haven’t won since Round 17.
Brown pointed out points from turnover had become “a really big problem” for the Dockers, ranking 16th in that category since Round 10.
“The thing is they can’t move the football at the moment,” he said.
“Teams have obviously started to work them out. They’re pressing up, they’re taking away their uncontested marks.
“Their ability to move the football is a huge concern for mine.”
Dual premiership Kangaroo David King labelled the Blues’ loss to Adelaide as one of the most “arrogant” performances he’d seen by an AFL team in years.
Instead of cementing their spot in the top eight, the defeat has left the Blues somewhat vulnerable ahead of the final three weeks. They need one more win to guarantee a finals spot, but they have a tough run against Brisbane, Melbourne and Collingwood.
In the past six weeks, according to Champion Data, the Blues have been ranked 14th for points scored and 13th for scores per inside 50 – rankings that stunned Riewoldt because of Carlton’s personnel up forward.
“Their scoring has dried up, which is the last thing you’d expect to happen with this group when you consider who they’ve got in the front half,” he said.
“They’re just not scoring and their efficiency when they actually get it in there to (Charlie) Curnow and (Harry) McKay and these guys is just not at the level it was at the start of the season.”
Brown added: “They were off with their contest work and competitiveness. Disappointing on the weekend.”
The Saints squeezed into the top eight on the weekend, surviving an almighty comeback from a fast-finishing Hawthorn to make it two wins on the trot.
But they just haven’t been the same team since their Round 13 bye, losing five of their past eight games.
And since their bye, the Saints are ranked 15th for both points differential from turnover and points differential from clearances.
“They’ve got two areas here … They’re well aware of this and the way they move the footy would be another one,” Lyon said.
“They’re in the eight right now and they’ve got three games to go, so it’s their spot to lose.”
After three close losses and a draw, the Tigers conjured a mighty close win on Sunday against the Lions to keep their finals hopes alive. It was just their second win in six games.
Those past six weeks has seen a dip in Richmond’s off-ball ability. They’re ranked 17th for contested possession – an area not seen as a strength of the Tigers’ during their premiership dynasty – but 18th for pressure – a massive strength during their premiership era.
“The concern is without the footy,” Brown said. “We say ‘without the footy’ because the contested footy hasn’t been great, but it’s been their pressure, which has been 18th in the last six weeks.
“The reason that’s important for Richmond is they were highly ranked in the 2017 to 2020 season, so they need to be doing that well to be a contender.”
The Dogs felt the full brunt of a brutal Geelong team last weekend, blown away during a ruthless third term.
They now sit 10th on the ladder, meaning they must win at least two of their final three games against the Dockers, Giants and Hawks if they are to feature in September.
What would help their cause would be an improvement in defending all movement – an area in which they’re ranked 14th in across the 2022 season.
“There are defensive concerns,” Riewoldt said.
“When you’ve got a back six that we’ve spoken about being susceptible at times, you want to be able to defend ball movement and stop it actually getting in there – and that’s not the case at the moment.
“The ball’s going from one end of the ground to the other far too easily.”
Lyon said it was a “bit of a stretch” to find an improvement area for a Magpies team that’s won 10 consecutive games.
But Riewoldt said the Pies could sharpen up at the coalface, although he added: “The part of their game they have to improve is probably clearance – but you can win the ball without being great in that area.”