HPN’s #AFL Round 3 Preview

This is the second edition of HPN’s weekly AFL preview. It’s probably better than last week’s piece.

Chaos in the first two rounds

In the first two rounds we have had the following results:

Geelong d Hawthorn

GWS d Geelong

Melbourne d GWS

Essendon d Melbourne

Gold Coast d Essendon

The belt has changed hands twice in the first two weeks, and stands a decent shot of going to the Swans this week.

What does this mean? Something. Almost certainly the last two weeks will build into a longer term narrative that defines the season.

Do we know what it means yet? No idea. It’s almost too early to tell what the chaotic first two weeks of the season means. Anyone who tells you anything else is lying, especially Champion Data:

The Dogs Weaknesses Are As Before

During the week a couple of waaaay too early articles looked at whether the Dogs are there as premiership contenders. As stated above, we believe it’s too early to be taking trends from the season to date.

Nick Welch drew the comparison between the smallish Bulldogs defence and the currently dominant Golden State Warriors. Rather than contrasting against the present day Warriors and their embrace of smallball, the Dogs defence is perhaps more reminiscent of Rick Pinito’s full court presses, especially with Kentucky in the mid-90s. Pinito often took athletic players not in the top tier talent-wise and installed them in a pressing system that forced opponent mistakes that de-emphasized any offensive deficiencies. Take the 1996 national championship game for example. In this game, Syracuse shot better from the field and the free-throw line, yet still lost by 9 points. Due to their propensity to create turnovers and generate steals, they were able to take 21 more shots than the Orange, of which 13 were non-rebound related. The Warriors, on the other hand, operate out of a man-to-man half-court defence, switching where possible, beating teams with their offence and limiting the damage on D. The Warriors have a good-to-great defence (living and dying off denying opponents good shots, but with a relatively weak turnover rate unlike the aforementioned Wildcats), but it pales in comparison to their transcendent offence.

Like the Wildcats, the Bulldogs operate to stop scoring chances occurring primarily, rather than focusing on defending the opportunity itself. Or: a lot of the Dogs’ failures end up in relatively high leverage scoring chances for the opposition. Here’s a chart of marks inside 50 conceded per conceded inside 50 entry in 2015:

2015 AFL Def MI50

This indicates that there’s been a weakness for the Dogs’ defence when the zonal press breaks down, allowing easier attempts inside 50 when there is a clear entry. This weakness has been partially masked so far this season as they have faced two of the weaker teams in this area from last season (Fremantle and St Kilda). Still, the trend is still clearly visible in the first two rounds of this season:

2016 AFL Def MI50

The Dogs defence is great when it’s bending to stop other teams getting inside 50, but chaotic when it is broken.

The other area of concern last year for the Bulldogs is yet to be really tested this year, that of hitouts. The Dogs had the good fortune of facing Fremantle without their biggest weapon (Sandilands), and then fought to a draw with Tom Hickey from the Saints. The Bulldogs won’t get a real test in this area until round 6, when they face off against the dominant Goldstein (you can throw Brisbane in the mix here, but Martin isn’t at the same level as Goldstein for taps).

If the Bulldogs are to take the next step this year, they will probably need to improve these areas.

Hot Take of the Week

Fuck off Sam Newman. Just fuck right off. Plenty of retired footballers go quietly into the distance, as you should. You admit on the air that you barely watch football anymore, and other than in the ruck your insights on the game seem stuck in 1989.

You are denying people with intelligence the opportunity to use it. You are making Australia stupider. At this point your only use is as conclusive proof that “making jokes” doesn’t stop you from being a disgusting sexist pig.

Fuck you.

Things to watch this week

  1. Can Port find its way back to the outside?

Port Adelaide have gotten off to a slow start this season, and seemingly one of the reasons is their shift to contested ball, and inability to find uncontested marks:2016 R2 AFL Cont Poss
Both numbers are way down on how they used the ball last year, and the uncontested mark rate is disastrous. For a team that relies on getting clean ball in open space, this is a significant issue for the Power. And it’s seemingly having flow-on effects elsewhere:

2016 AFL Off MI50

Through two weeks the Power have the least marks inside 50 per inside 50 entry, which is perhaps the outcome of the more rushed and contested disposal. This week they face the Dons, a team that has worked primarily on the outside this year, focusing on finding open players with precise kicks. A more open game might suit the Power, and hopefully kick them out of their early season malaise.

  1. Can Gold Coast continue their hot start?

Given they are playing Carlton this week and Brisbane next, the answer in the short term should be “yes”. There is every chance that Gold Coast will be 4-0 after the first month of football, which is probably the biggest shock of the season so far. So far they have been better in nearly every way than they were last year, and considerably so, but two weeks isn’t a big sample.

The real test for the Suns will come when they face North Melbourne and Geelong in rounds 5 and 6. Until then, get used to seeing the Suns at the pointy end of the ladder.

  1. Who will be the last team without a win, and when will it come?

Most people focus on “the last undefeated team”, but we at HPN think that’s been overplayed. We’re more interested in working out when the last completely beaten team will see the light of victory, and who that team will be. With Essendon out of the running early, only four contenders remain: Carlton, Brisbane, Fremantle and St Kilda.

One of Fremantle and Carlton will pick up a win when they meet in round 5 if not before, then St Kilda meet Fremantle in round 10, Brisbane play Carlton in round 11 and St Kilda face Carlton in round 12. Those are the next four matchups between currently winless sides. At this stage, the last possible week of two winless teams this year remains round 23 when the Lions and Saints are finally scheduled to meet.

The smart money is probably on round 11 being the end of the winless streak, or at least the narrowing down to one remaining contender.

  1. Who will be the latest out-of-contract key position forward connected to Fremantle?

It’s a year starting with “2”, so that means there’s “out of contract key forward to Fremantle” rumours floating around the traps. We get it. They need a key forward, and they might have cash to burn. This year’s candidate is Jesse Hogan who has been reported breathlessly as yet to resign with the Demon. The thing is, though, he’s contracted until the end of 2017 and there’s a new pay deal being negotiated. We have to wonder why anyone thinks a player with another full season left under contract, with as much earning power and upside as Hogan, would ever want to sign a new contract before the new and enlarged EBA is finalised.

Come on media, give it a break for a bit – Hogan not re-signing isn’t even enough fodder for a proper rumour.

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