The Way-Too-Early 2013 Preview: Adelaide Crows

As you may or may not have noticed, football, or at least its zany, less enjoyable and on the whole unsatisfying younger brother the NAB Cup, is about two weeks away. To  commemorate the coming of football I was going to organise some sort of fortnight long Gladiatorial contest, but it turns out the Colosseum is now a tourist attraction and thus no longer used to host bloodsport. Who knew? So instead I’ve turned to option B. I’ve decided to write early season previews for every AFL club. I’ll be looking at their performance in 2012, and what that can tell us about their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll be noting points of interest to keep an eye on during the NAB Cup and the season proper. Finally, I’ve attempted to make vague and exceedingly broad predictions about what 2013 might hold for these teams. I’ve tried to be positive without entering “everyone will make the top four and there will be no more sadness” territory, but overall predictions of such things are largely pointless anyway.

So on that note, here is the first pointless preview:

 

ADELAIDE CROWS

Full disclosure, I am an Adelaide fan. Feel free to comment on how rosy my glasses are once you’ve finished reading.

2012 was a remarkable year for the Adelaide Crows. Newly appointed coach Brenton Sanderson promised an initial “spike” in the team’s on-field performance, but what resulted was less spike and more Seattle Space Needle.

Adelaide Areas of Significant Improvement

2011

2012

Contested Possessions

14th

2nd

Clearances

13th

tied 2nd

Marks Inside 50

12th

tied 2nd

Goals

16th

4th

The Crows finished the home and away season in second place on the ladder, an astronomical improvement on their fourteenth placed finish in 2011. After a disappointing performance in their home qualifying final against Sydney, Adelaide recovered well to beat a red-hot Fremantle before falling agonisingly short in a spirited effort against the much more fancied Hawthorn.

Then the off-season started.

Kurt Tippett left the club in acrimonious circumstances to join Premiers Sydney. In doing so, he joined Nathan Bock, Phil Davis and Jack Gunston as key players to have willingly chosen to leave the club over the past three years. Questions need to be asked. Is the water in Adelaide that bad? Was Tippett a Vili’s man all along? Did Taylor Walker’s appearance give credence to the notion that South Australia is indeed twenty years behind everyone else?

Jokes aside, the Tippett saga, and Adelaide’s handling of it, was about as amateur as it gets. If we measured ineptitude through the medium of world wonders, then this is the Great Pyramid right here. Even Fremantle circa 1995 would be envious of Adelaide’s ability to make the wrong decision at every possible opportunity. It’s almost impressive, in a ‘how-did-you-manage-to-screw-up-that-badly?’ kind of way. Did I mention pretty much everyone responsible still works for the club?

Frankly, football can’t start soon enough for the Crows. I’m fully expecting to one day encounter a reputable medical journal with the words ‘DANGERFIELD CURES ALL WOES’ on the cover.

2012 Key Statistics

Adelaide 2012 Offensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Disposals 350.6 14th
Contested Possessions 148.5 2nd
Clearances 40.2 tied 2nd
Inside 50s 52.2 11th
Marks Inside 50 13.4 tied 2nd
Hitouts 43.8 3rd
Goals 15.5 4th
Adelaide 2012 Defensive
Average per Game Competition Rank
Points Against 83.32 6th
Inside 50s Conceded 49.6 8th
Marks Inside 50 Conceded 10.1 6th
Tackles 58.3 16th

 

Adelaide 2012 Offensive/Defensive Differentials
Total Competition Rank
Inside 50s Opponent Differential(Total Inside 50s minus Total Inside 50s conceded) 63 tied 8th
Marks Inside 50 Opponent Differential(Total Marks Inside 50 minus Total Marks Inside 50 conceded) 82 3rd


What are they great at?

The Crows overwhelming strength lies in their ability to win the footy. They rank among the competition’s elite in several significant categories, including an impressive top two rank in contested possessions, clearances, and marks inside 50. The Crows were the only club in 2012 to have two players ranked in the top ten for contested possessions per game (Dangerfield 2nd, Thompson 6th). The midfield duo also finished in the top ten in clearances per game (Thompson 3rd, Dangerfield 8th). Both midfielders owe a great deal of their success to ruckman Sam Jacobs, who lead the league in hitouts to advantage. If the ball is in dispute, chances are Adelaide will come up with it.

What are they good at?

Throughout the Neil Craig era the Crows had a reputation as being a fearsome defensive side. While fearsome would be giving them a little too much credit, on the whole they remained an above average defensive unit under the new coaching regime. Adelaide ranked as the sixth best side in terms on points allowed per game, ranked 8th in inside 50s conceded per game, and sixth in marks inside 50 conceded. Good, but not quite up there with the very best.

What do they need to improve?

Considering how good they are at getting their hands on the footy when it’s in dispute, the Crows were below average when it came to getting the ball inside 50. This is perhaps made even more disappointing when you consider how good they are at marking it when it gets in there.

What are they bad at?

Tackling. Successfully wrapping up the ball carrier has been a problem at West Lakes for several years now. While other past problem areas, such as clearances, contested possessions, and goals, saw radical improvements under Sanderson and company, tackling remained as an issue in vital need of address. In 2012, only the Suns and Giants averaged less tackles per game than Adelaide. Ouch.

 

POINTS OF INTEREST IN 2013

Patrick Dangerfield

Dangerfield’s Per Game Averages Ranking in 2012
Disposals

14th

Kicks

9th

Contested Possessions

2nd

Clearances

8th

Inside 50s

2nd

 

 

 

 

Dangerfield doesn’t turn 23 until April, but he is already one of the best midfielders in the competition. Impact player is the phrase that comes to mind. There isn’t a single player in the competition that possesses his unique combination of sheer strength and speed. It’s like he was constructed in a lab. Watching him play football over the past few years has been like watching those montage scenes in comic book movies where the hero first develops his powers and seeks to control them. In the beginning he has next to no control, which leaves him fumbling to hide a broken lamp as Aunt May stands at the front door searching for her keys. Slowly, they master their new found abilities. They can switch it on and off. They realise they are just scratching the surface of what they are capable of. Soon they are thwarting small time crooks, before they finally come up against evil itself. Dangerfield is at the “beginning to master his abilities stage”. He still has the footballing equivalent of broken lamps, normally in the form of sprayed kicks immediately after a line-breaking forty metre sprint. Look for Dangerfield to continue to master his impressive skillset in 2013. He might even be fighting crime by seasons end.


K.T Change Home

Of course, you can’t look back at Adelaide’s 2012 and the upcoming campaign without addressing the elephant in the room key forward in the pocket, the recently departed pie enthusiast and apparent Sydneysider at heart, Kurt Tippett. He is so good he doesn’t even bother to read the legal documents he signs.

Here is everything you need to know about Kurt Tippett.

  1. On his day, he can win a game of football off his own boot.
  2. He was monumentally huge in the Preliminary Final against Hawthorn.
  3. The man can take a mark.
  4. Despite what you may think, Tippett has kicked more goals than behinds in all but one of his AFL seasons (he kicked 17.17 in his debut season).
  5. Despite what I just told you, every single Kurt Tippett approach from a set shot was viewed through wincing eyes.
  6. If he misses his first set shot, it is going to be a long day.
  7. The man was a late comer to football, and it often shows. Tippett lacks some footy nous. He often fails to lead and instead tries to rely on his height advantage against opponents, often resulting in him contesting against more than one opponent. Sometimes when he does lead, he will lead to the exact same spot as one of his forward line colleagues. Often he tops this off by leaping into the back of their head. This happens often enough for me to call it a trend.
  8. Despite this lack of nous, and despite the fact he missed four games, and despite the fact 2012 was probably Tippett’s worst year since his debut, he still finished 12th  in terms of marks inside 50 and tied 17th for goals.
  9. Sydney is paying Tippett like he is a top ten player in the league.
  10. Kurt Tippett is not one of the top ten players in the league.

Walker minus Tippett equals?

If you asked any Adelaide fan to choose between one of Walker or Tippett, every single one would say Walker. Anyone who didn’t is either an idiot or Kurt Tippett. Walker blossomed into the forward force everyone envisioned (and the one Adelaide fans hoped and dreamed of) last year. He finished 5th among players for marks inside 50, and kicked 63 goals, good for fourth place in the Coleman. He did this despite missing six home and away games (he trailed only Lance Franklin in goals per game).

Put simply Walker was put on this Earth to kick goals. While Tippett lacks traditional footy nous, Walker has it seeping from his pores. He should probably see a dermatologist. He leads stronger and to better positions much more often than his former forward partner, and in terms of pure instinct he is in the Steve Johnson mould, operating just that little quicker than everyone else around goal and attempting the things others cannot even conceive of. Despite not having Tippett’s sheer size and length, Walker does possess brute strength, which he can use to devastating effect. When you combine this, his instincts, and his natural footballing brain, you have a forward who is about as prototypical as it gets.

But just because Walker is better doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be fine and dandy. Tippett is a good player, and his skillset demands focus from the opposition. With him no longer in the picture, it seems logical that opposing sides will be able to dedicate more time and resources into counteracting Walker. Number 13 isn’t without flaws either. Walker often attempts the more flashy or extravagant marking option, sitting back and floating in from behind rather than using his superior strength to simply out-body opponents as the ball comes in, and while he is usually assured in front of goal, he occasionally fails to take full advantage with his chances, kicking 3 behinds or more in five games last year. Still, overall he is not bad for a 22 year old.

Last season Walker played in three games when Tippett was out.

Disposals Marks Goals
Walker with Tippett 14.9 6.8 3.4
Walker without Tippett 11.3 6.3 2.6

Per game averages in 2012

Only a small sample size, but it shows Walkers averages did drop in the absence of Tippett. It is worth noting that in the first game without Tippett, round 18 at Geelong, Walker was held to just four marks and no goals. He did however kick four goals in each of the following two games against Essendon and Fremantle respectively. Certainly not enough evidence to declare something as extravagant as Walker needs Tippett, in fact it’s probably not enough evidence to declare anything. Just something to keep an eye on.

Replacing Tippett

Avg goals in games with Tippett and Walker 14.62
Avg goals in games with just Walker 14.66

 

 

Once again, we only have a three game sample size from 2012, but what it shows is that while Walker’s averages may have dropped slightly in the absence of Tippett, the number of goals the Crows averaged per game remained roughly the same. This offers some evidence to suggest Adelaide’s scoring prowess won’t crumble now that Tippett has departed.

While the Crows don’t have a player who can directly match Tippett’s output in the forward line, they do possess a range of players they can attempt to replicate his role with. Those most likely vying to fill the void are Josh Jenkins, Shaun McKernan, Lewis Johnston and Ricky Henderson.

Jenkins, who arrived in Adelaide via Essendon, showed some promise in his debut Adelaide season. The athletic tall played both up forward and in the ruck, but looked more at home in the forward arc. In terms of physical presence, he is probably the most capable of replicating Tippett.

Shaun McKernan is entering his fifth season on Adelaide’s list, and having played only 23 times, will be looking to prove he belongs at this level. Tippett’s departure has provided McKernan with his biggest opportunity to cement a place to date. While McKernan has shown flashes of being a capable AFL footballer, his performances on the whole haven’t filled fans with promise. Despite this, former Adelaide recruiting manager Matt Rendell has gone as far to say that not only will Adelaide not miss Tippett, but that if McKernan plays in his spot he would provide more value than the new Swan.

Like McKernan, Lewis Johnston was drafted in 2008 but to date has failed to play regularly. Having joined Adelaide from Sydney in the 2011 off-season, Johnston spent most of 2012 starring for North Adelaide in the SANFL. Johnston kicked 57 goals for the Roosters, good for second place on the competition’s goal tally chart. Johnston can bag goals, but whether he can do it at AFL level remains to be seen.

Another former basketballer, Ricky Henderson is one of Adelaide’s ‘stick-him-wherever’ utility types. Henderson has a tall, wiry frame, and electric pace and acceleration. For the most part, Henderson plays on the flanks or the wing, where he can find open space to utilise his speed. In Round 15 against Port Adelaide, Henderson was positioned up forward with tremendous results, registering 6 goals as well as 11 marks to go with 20 disposals. While Henderson won’t win many standstill contests like Tippett did, he remains an intriguing prospect if Adelaide decides to replace Tippett with an entirely different type of player.

2013 OUTLOOK

In football the midfield is king, and Adelaide has a very good one. Throw in highly touted midfield prospect Brad Crouch, and natural improvement from young players like Brodie Smith, Matthew Wright, Rory Sloane and the enigmatic Patrick Dangerfield, and the Crows have a midfield engine that should rank among the best for the foreseeable future.

While the departure of Tippett is a significant loss, the Crows are reasonably well positioned to deal with it, a remarkable fact considering the exodus of key position players in recent years. A host of players will be given the opportunity to step into his boots, and while none are likely to match what he provided, the team as a whole has shown they are capable at achieving similar scoring figures in his absence.

Fundamentally, these players do not have to match all of Tippett’s abilities. In fact they need only to match one. They need to command respect from the opposition. They have to play at a level that prevents opposing defenders from double or triple teaming Walker, or punish them when they do by taking advantage of the lack of attention afforded them. Put simply, Adelaide cannot afford to become entirely reliant on Walker for their goal scoring needs. With Porplyzia and Callinan in the forward arc, and goal hungry midfielders like Dangerfield, Sloane and Vince, Adelaide shouldn’t have to, and may even go close to matching their scoring feats from last year.

Indeed, it is perhaps defensively where the majority of questions lie. Fullback Ben Rutten remains the rock in the Adelaide backline, and 21 year old Daniel Talia won the Rising Star award after collecting several big name scalps throughout the year. These two form an impressive spine. However, the departures of Nathan Bock, Phil Davis and Michael Doughty mean Adelaide’s backline stocks are not what they could be, and with Graham Johncock beginning to show signs of regression, more will be expected of younger players like Sam Shaw sooner rather than later. It’s not cause for great concern if you’re an Adelaide fan, but one or two injuries to key defenders could leave Adelaide exposed.

Despite these loses, the positives far outweigh the negatives in Adelaide (well, on field at least), and it’s easy to envision Adelaide battling for another top four berth. Competition for top four spots will be even more fierce than usual, with Hawthorn, Sydney, Geelong, Collingwood, West Coast, and Adelaide all looking like good bets at this stage. Adelaide’s grip on a top four spot is by no means secure, and any drop in performance will likely see them surrender it. Indeed they could maintain a similar level of performance and still drop out due to improvement from others (I’m looking at you West Coast). If Adelaide are going to finish in the top four for the second season running, then they will have to improve on the level of play that saw them finish second in 2012.

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?

Comments

  1. Adam, great to have you back. Love your pieces last footy season. Good that you’ll be able to get a few previews under your belt before tackling the likes of Carlton, Collingwood and (good luck) Geelong on this site.
    With 18 teams to preview, you’ll be exhausted before the season proper. Hope the sports scientists are keeping an eye on you.

  2. Terrific analysis, Adam. All your arguments backed up with objective stats, and no sign of Crows parochialism in your conclusions.
    My thoughts are that Jacobs + Thompson, Dangerfield, Sloane, Vince etc are the best midfield in the comp. There has been a lot of focus on Dangerfield, but from what I saw Sloane has the potential to be even better.
    In an average year an elite midfield with little else can win a flag (Eagles 2006), but I think there is a lot more competition at the top end this year.
    I can’t see many goalkickers other than Walker. It was notable that Walker and Tippett never kicked bags together last year. One was the effective decoy for the other. I can’t see Walker dominating on his own, so the midfield is going to have to kick a lot of running goals.
    Rutten looked past it last year, so while Talia was a good find, you look short a tall mobile defender to me.
    Lastly, I was reading a US football stat about the average regression of big improvers – they win 20% less games the season after a break out year.
    So for mine the Crows will need to find a lot of improvement from their players to stay a Top 4 side. About 6th seems likely to me.
    I love your work. It would be great to include an analysis of each team’s fixture in future previews. The Eagles were flattered by a soft draw in 2011, but our success meant we got a tougher draw last year and it was the reason for not finishing Top 4. The Crows got a soft draw in 2012, but I haven’t seen a good summary of comparative fixtures for this year. The “who do you play twice” differential can be worth 2 or 3 games depending on whether Emperor Andy gives your club the thumbs up or down.

  3. Adam Ritchie says:

    Cheers Cookie. The sports scientists are keen to implement some sort of preview rotation policy. Steve Smith will be writing the next one.

    Thanks Peter. I think competition for top four spots will be tighter than ever, and Adelaide can’t afford to not improve. I’m reasonably confident they won’t drop off, but I don’t think not getting worse is enough. They need to be better. When I went through the fixture the other day I had them on around 15 wins and 5th/6th place on the ladder.

    The fixture one is interesting. Adelaide have got a nice one. Not as nice as last year, but better than what the other members of the top four received. Hawthorn has one of the more fascinating starts this year, while North have been dealt a brutal card.

  4. Peter Schumacher says:

    Great analysis I reckon!

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