Analysis: why has the Power’s run and carry stopped and dropped?

There has been a lot of ruminating this week, and not just by cows, on why the Power is struggling. Theories abound around: missing players (Lobbe at the start of the season and Wines ever since); lacking conviction; losing direction moving forward; and, most fatally, having been worked out without a Plan B. Any premiership favourites tag has gone the way of the Suns’ contenders badges. That said, all claims pale into insignificance compared to Malthouse not seeing Carlton losing a game this year (perhaps coaching with his eyes closed is the problem).

Whatever the reason, something clearly has changed. At 3-4, having notched up unexpected losses to Brisbane, West Coast and a danger game against Richmond coming this weekend, the Power is in a spot of bother. The top four chance is disappearing quicker than an unrestricted bar tab while even the eight could be shaky if things keep going wrong.

A long bow

I saw a fair amount of Port Adelaide losing last year. Lucky me you may well think. However, when it comes to the AFL I actually enjoy watching Port Adelaide play when they are taking the game on and feeding off the energy (dare one say power?) of their rowdy home crowds. Incidentally, where have these people come from? Are rumours about the reanimation of the residents of the Cheltenham cemetery true?

Regardless, even though I only want the Power to lose twice a year, I did see Port Adelaide lose three times in the SANFL to my own beloved Redlegs; including twice in the finals. Ah, a warm September afternoon as the ball’s spiralling trajectory into the Magpies’ forward line was left unfulfilled by the peal of Australia’s loudest footy siren (dissolves into a reverie).

The romantic/parochial part of me likes to think that Port Adelaide has been worked out this year and that a few AFL clubs watched Port’s two losses to Norwood in the SANFL finals series; removing the rubber band from the Port slingshot. Granted it was only their reserves team but it was packed with AFL talent and the reserves game plan mirrors the firsts.

Over two see-sawing finals the Redlegs demonstrated how a smaller, less talented, less professional (in terms of pay packet) team could prevail by denying Port Adelaide space and time and locking them into their defensive 50. Granted, you could pretty much beat any team doing those two things but it was not so much the what as the how.

The bounce has gone from their bungee

Has that been the key to the Port Adelaide lock this season? Possibly not but I like to think so (of course I’ll underestimate the analytical abilities of AFL clubs in favour of the shoestring budget of my state league club). But what do the numbers say?

What has changed in the bevy of statistics that the AFL is happy to throw at us? First off, there is a lot that hasn’t changed: Port still roughly get the same number of hit-outs, clearances and disposals in 2015 as they did in 2014. Their team effort in terms of one-percenters remains the same, as does their accuracy on goal and their disposal efficiency has actually improved a tad (+1.4%).

The biggest single change in the Power stats is bounces. In 2014 they averaged 15.2 bounces per game; this year it is 6.6. In addition their Inside 50s have significantly decreased (-12.3%) and, somewhat alarmingly, given the addition of Ryder, their marks inside 50 have decreased by a greater amount (-17.4%). In fact, across the ground Port’s contested marking has decreased (-15.2%). The other figure that would worry is a marked increase in clangers (+8.5%).

Keeping the Pittardstards honest

Jasper Pittard may give a clue as to what’s going on here. In season 2014 he was the Power’s chief bouncer, their door bitch if you will, averaging 3.4 bounces per game. Is year it’s 1. However in pretty much all other aspects of the game Pittard’s output has increased including time spent on ground (+6.8%).

That leads to an interesting question, are Port better off using Pittard in shorter bursts and having him get less of the ball but carrying it more? That may be one of the most stupid questions I have ever asked (and there have been some doozies) but it does point to a question of team balance.

Matthew Broadbent is the other interesting character in all this. His bounceput has decreased by 1 (from 2.4 to 1.4) this season and most of his other stats are marginally down, including time on ground (-6%). Has something changed for him?

At the end of the day it may very well be something that stats won’t catch, something more ineffable. Port are winning the same amount of ball but the game is being played in their defensive half. The desire to take the game on may be part of it but, if so, how does Special Ken flick that switch? The Norwood inspired ability to deprive Port of the ball and their outside runners the space may be playing the leading role.

An Alberton affair

Perhaps we were seduced by the romance of Port Adelaide: the proud old club, fallen on hard times, transformed in a season by a straight talking coach; reinvigorated by a new home; the style of play – Ken shouting ‘attack’ and the players doing so, feverishly; the Chad-ness of the Wingard; the thrilling, barnstorming finishes; the well-thighed midfielders; the offseason recruiting of the final puzzle piece.

In all the excitement, we forgot the mid-season slump to finish fifth when the minor premiership had been theirs for the taking; the unlikelihood and questionable repeatability of running opponents down late; the rather significant defensive deficiencies of the Chad; the midfield reliance on a 19 year old; Ryder’s ability to go missing.

Perhaps the beauty of the teal (has anyone ever said that before) is being overwhelmed by the beast of an equalised, viciously competitive 18 team competition. Perhaps the Power phoenix will rise from the Port river this week like a flaming dolphin (no dolphins were harmed in the production of this sentence). Only time will tell.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

Comments

  1. Interesting thoughts Dave. Like you I like watching Port play well (except against my Eagles). That first quarter against the Hawks was dazzling. Watching them closely up high in the Wanganeen Stand against my Eagles I came to 2 conclusions.
    Firstly at their best they play a manic attacking style like Freo play manic defence. Port have a lot of men behind the ball and then try to spread wide and from side to side as they run it forward. Anything less than manic and they are easily cut off and outnumbered in transition by a well spread defence. Against the Eagles they did manic for 15 minutes in the second quarter and looked scary, but ease off 2% and just “run hard” and they are easy pickings. They rely on getting it over the back on the diagonals at half forward.
    Secondly they lack a good strong big forward. If Plan A doesn’t come off they can’t hold it in up forward. Schulz is a leading forward and he isn’t an imposing physical threat.
    Which brings me to a couple of lateral crazy thoughts. Paddy Ryder is a cunis of a footballer. Port are best at clearances with Lobbe’s more physical bullocking. So sharing the ruck work diminishes Lobbe’s effectiveness. Up forward both Ryder and Lobbe are the poor man’s CHF. 2 + 2 = 3.
    My other conundrum is Wingard. He looks good standing still. But he doesn’t hurt opponents. Not tall enough for a marking forward. Too predictable on his left foot. And an outside receiver chipping wide in the midfield.
    He is way off the Fyfe, Dangerfield, Sloane class in the midfield. Gray is the danger player, but he is having to bolster the midfield rather than kick goals. Boak and Hartlett are playing like honest toilers not offensive weapons.
    I think they need to find a competitive CHF and play with more reckless abandon, rather than the cute, comfortable chippy style they have settled into.

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