The high press
From the very first bounce Adelaide was imposing. Despite recording 46 more disposals in the first quarter and enjoying plenty of time in possession they were more manic without the ball than with, chasing and corralling like the scores were level in the last five minutes of a grand final. Combine this with silky ball use and it’s inevitably one-way traffic.
Adelaide set up a high press in the first quarter to achieve this, placing the Eagles right on the back foot. Setting up their defensive structure closer to their goal than normal meant less time and space for the Eagles to use the ball in the back half, and meant a panicked kick rarely went into their forward half of the ground. If one picture tells a thousand words it’s Adelaide’s first quarter heat map – the Crows were successfully able to intercept in the middle of the ground and heap pressure on the Eagles’ backline.
The first quarter numbers alone are remarkable. The Eagles must have been feeling claustrophobic after their uncontested possession and effective disposal tally halved that of the Crows, not being allowed any chance to settle. Aside from the suspended Chris Masten, West Coast’s five leading players for metres gained this season – Gaff, Hurn, Shuey, LeCras, Yeo – combined for just three effective kicks in the first quarter. Putting so much pressure on their ball movers meant the Crows were able to lock it in their forward half – they recorded 45 more forward half possessions and 14 more inside 50s for the quarter.
West Coast was rattled, and their generally reliable and composed ball use in the back half was shot. Adelaide scored 12.8 (80) from West Coast turnovers. Only once previously have the Crows sourced more than 50 points from opposition turnovers against a top eight side this season – against North Melbourne in round one when they recorded 78. That game is eerily reminiscent – North Melbourne were pressed hard and made panicked decisions going forward, allowing Adelaide to counter into a forward line with space and blow their opponents away early.
Perfect execution of pressure and skill
Here Xavier Ellis can be seen kicking to the fat side of the ground, trying to switch the play. West Coast was organised and held a numbers advantage, so they could have expected to push the ball forward beyond the initial kick. But Rory Atkins (red circle, left) had other ideas. He, like all Crows, was switched on, and pounced on a slightly wayward Ellis kick. With Brodie Smith charging to his side, Adelaide were not only able to bring the ball to ground and kill the Eagles’ transition, but found the footy and sent it back where it came from.
This happened so often – the Crows backed themselves to hit targets in dangerous positions, won important one on ones and their forward benefited enormously.
Eddie Betts lay waiting in the goalsquare unmanned, and while Smith’s kick wasn’t perfect, it was low and hard enough to worry the West Coast backline and penetrate their defensive zone. Ellis again dropped an overhead mark – in his defence, it wouldn’t have looked out of place on cricket’s classic catches if he’d taken it – allowing Betts to crumb, find a free Tom Lynch and have him snap Adelaide’s fifth goal in just seven minutes of game time.
Pace and space
In high contrast, Adelaide’s precision and speed in moving the ball forward had the Eagles stumped. In many ways it was like a classic counterattacking game style. Led by Eddie Betts, who recorded six score involvements in the first quarter, the Crows were mobile, fluent and, crucially, hit the scoreboard.
Fast ball movement often prevented the Eagles from setting up their defensive zone, and meant players were caught out of position. Twice Josh Jenkins took contested marks deep in Adelaide’s forward line in the first quarter, both one out against West Coast defenders Shannon Hurn and Tom Barrass. Quick, direct ball movement is crucial against all sides, but against a height-deprived defence like West Coast’s, the effect can be extrapolated.
One crucial question remains: can the Crows do this in finals? This is what happens when they execute to their full potential. It’s fearsome and it makes them a side few would want to face. But is it resolute?
The Eagles managed to fight back in the second quarter, kicking five unanswered goals. They did this by settling their nerves and trying as best they can to find a passage out of defence. With so many Adelaide numbers committed forward it leaves their backline exposed and undermanned whenever a team can move the ball out and find targets fast enough. A good team with a sound back six and smart ball movement – Richmond is a good example – may not be frazzled to the same extent. But even then, Adelaide was good enough to reapply themselves in the third quarter.
What this does give Adelaide and the finals series, however, is a sense of unpredictability. We’ve seen them now not only win games but do it with a ruthlessness and killer instinct that can be so crucial in a finals series. The Eagles, with a backline that’s been so settled for so long in the absence of important players, have also shown they – like just about everyone in the top eight – can be vulnerable.
What exactly will it mean throughout September? Time will tell. But Crows fans can’t be disappointed.
3: Josh Jenkins (Ade)
2: Patrick Dangerfield (Ade)
1: Brodie Smith (Ade)
Images courtesy of Fox Footy and the AFL Live app