So Which Club Actually Has The AFL's Best Attack?
So our dreams of a new dawn of pulsating, high-scoring footy might already be over. C'est la Vie.
Scoring has indeed regressed by the week, and while you’re entitled to bemoan that fact, the reality shouldn’t diminish the ever-importance of a healthy, threatening attack in the modern game.
While defence remains intimately linked with premierships, it’s not as though the ability to score hasn’t, with 12 of the last 14 highest ranked offences at least making a preliminary final in their year of scoreboard harassment, with 10 of those 14 outfits represented on Grand Final day.
Yet at this stage of the season, points per game can only reveal so much when assessing a club’s attacking merit owing to the vagaries and inequalities of our young AFL fixture.
With that in mind, let’s swim a little deeper within the ocean of attacking metrics to gain a better grasp of which teams are best placed from an offensive perspective in 2021.
While even the league’s very worst are still able to get the ball inside-50 from time to time, only the best are able to consistently convert those entires into scoring shots.
This season, it’s the league’s healthiest ppg squad in the Western Bulldogs who’ve also presented as its most efficient.
Through seven games the Dogs are generating a scoring shot on 50.1% of forward 50 forays, up significantly from the 39.8% number they posted in 2020.
While Dog’s coach Luke Beveridge continues to receive his share of flak, the club has worked hard over the off-season to fashion a game-plan that best compliments its incredibly talented midfield.
The Eagles are next up, with their exquisitely-balanced attack still causing nightmares for opposition defences. Their 48.6% number is stronger than the 40.1% it posted over the course of its 2018 premiership season, while it's used a massive 55.1% conversion rate to pummel Fremantle over the weekend.
While both are ranked bottom-8 where total inside-50s are concerned, they’ve both been able to illustrate a relatively high level of efficiency near goal.
At the other end of the spectrum it’s no surprise to see the likes of North Melbourne and Hawthorn lurking. If you’re wondering why these two have a combined 2-12 record on the season, their inability to pose any kind of threat inside-50 reveals a massive clue.
While St Kilda sits just above these strugglers, posting only a 40.4% figure on the season, its fans will be hoping for more of what it delivered over the weekend where the Saints generated a scoring shot on 33 of its 66 inside-50 entries en route to its 69-point mauling of Hawthorn.
This is a measure of your club’s ability to generate unmolested shots on goal and speaks to a lethal combination of gorgeous midfield ball use into one’s forward line, as well as perhaps painting a picture of aerial expertise.
And here, once again, we see the Western Bulldogs out front.
So far in 2021, the Doggies are taking a mark inside-50 on 27.3% of their inside-50 incursions, up sharply from the 21.8% it mustered last season.
And it’s the Eagles who are again hot on their heels, hauling in a mark inside-50 on 26.4% of their entries. Emerging star Oscar Allenleads the way, leading the club with 20 marks inside-50. Allen, along with Bulldog Aaron Naughton,are the only two players in the competition ranked top-5 in both marks inside-50 and total contested grabs.
Fremantle is once again a surprise participant here, with their solid 25.9% number a big reason why the club is 4-3, and outside the top-8 on percentage only. And having a fit and healthy Matthew Tabeneris a big reason why, with their big forward averaging 3.6 marks inside-50 per game which quite easily represents his career-high.
Once again we see North holding up the table, closely followed by the Giants.
While the Roos’ inability to be much of a threat inside-50 is understandable, especially considering the departures of Shaun Higgins and Ben Brown, the Giants are perhaps a more interesting case, and one who’s number should begin to improve now that Jesse Hogan is finally in uniform.
Hogan’s combination with Toby Greene and Harrison Himmelberg looms large for the 2019 runners-up, with that trio combining for 10 marks inside-50 during its 67-point smashing of Adelaide, with the club producing a mark inside-50 on 24.1% of their entires, up significantly on the 16.8% figure it’s posted over the season.
Brisbane is another curious beast here. While they are well and truly in the premiership window, flexing their muscles over the weekend courtesy of a 49-point drubbing of Port Adelaide, the Lions are generating a mark inside-50 on only 17.8% of their entries, which is down on the 21.1% it posted last season.
It’s one thing to get the ball inside-50 and generate a shot on goal, yet it’s another thing entirely to make sure your side is doing everything in its power to keep the ball locked in there on the occasions it can’t.
While raw tackling inside-50 numbers are great, they don’t tell the whole story as some numbers might be miscued towards teams with an abundance of forward entries.
So perhaps a better way to measure inside forward-50 pressure is by assessing the ratio between an opponent’s ability to generate rebound-50s, against one’s own tackles inside-50.
And yes, once again, the Bulldogs can be seen and heard quite loudly, yet it's the ladder leading and undefeated Demons who are revealing their most dangerous forward trait.
It’s also where second-year sensation Kysaiah Pickett is bearing his teeth as well.
Pickett’s 13 tackles inside-50 are bettered by just two players in the league in West Coast’s Jamie Cripps and Gold Coast’s Nick Holman, while his 137 pressure acts on the season is the standout among Demon forwards. The fact that’s he’s producing these numbers on just 76.8% time on ground is simply stunning.
We’ve been complimentary of Fremantle with it’s ability to take marks inside-50 and generate scoring shots, yet we simply can’t ignore their horrendous numbers where keeping the ball locked inside-50 is concerned. As it stands, the Dockers don’t have a single player ranked within the league’s top-75 from a tackles inside-50 perspective, and even then, it’s poor old Nate Fyfe who’s having to lead the way in yet another area for the club.
These numbers are also concerning for Carlton, especially as this was an area the club was so bullish in last season, posting a stunning 3.09 rebound-50 to tackles inside-50 ratio. This season that number has plummeted to 5.13which begs the question as to just where the Blues would be without Sam Walsh and Harry McKay.
Ah yes, perhaps the ultimate test of a side’s attacking prowess is its ability to convert the opportunities that present themselves.
Thankfully we have Stats Insider’s shot-charting tool to assess every element of a team’s accuracy, and which in this case is revealing some remarkable findings.
The first thing that jumps out is what’s going happen when Melbourne actually start kicking straight. Despite the club’s barnstorming start to 2021, their conversion rate suggests they’ve left a lot of meat on the bone, with their 44%overall accuracy placed above only North Melbourne and Fremantle.
The Bulldogs accuracy is also of particular note, especially as their 6-1 start to the season has been supported by a rather run of the mill 49% total accuracy number.
As for the league’s sharp-shooters, we wrote last week about Brisbane jumping form the league’s worst set-shot team to its best, but we should also give a shout-out to the Eagles whose scary forward line is being complimented by a league-best 58% accuracy, and which is a big jump on the 50% number it posted in its 2018 premiership year.
So what have we learnt?
Well hopefully lots of things, but something that does stand out is how many boxes the Western Bulldogs are ticking, despite the perception that there’s something of a discord between it’s ultra-talented midfield and forward line.
We’ve learnt that despite Melbourne’s blistering start, so many of its offensive metrics sit in contrast to their rest-of-the-ground dominance. It’s perhaps a scary thought to consider how much room for improvement exists within this Demons squad.
Like the Bulldogs, West Coast is performing solidly in most areas, with plenty of indications that their forward set-up is actually a lot scarier than what they ran out in their 2018 premiership season.
And yes, we’ve learnt that so many of the competition's cellar dwellers such as North Melbourne, Hawthorn and Collingwood are performing dreadfully in key offensive areas, only entrenching their position at the foot of the ladder.
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