Flag favourites. Offensive juggernaut. Dynasty. These are the phrases that have been used in discussing the ladder-leading Adelaide Crows this season.
After their shock loss to North Melbourne in which they put up a 0 in the opening term, media critics dismissed the loss as a blip on the radar due to the typical windy Tasmanian conditions.
But just as the Crows seemed to be finding their rhythm again in the second quarter on their home deck, Melbourne scored eight consecutive goals and would not relinquish the lead they had built.
So as the terms have changed from the hunted to the caught, from the juggernaut to the front-runners and from the benchmark to the pedestrian, are the Crows a one-trick pony?
The Demons were able to do what no team other than North Melbourne had done: deny the Crows the football.
Adelaide was held to just 379 disposals compared to the Demons’ 420, and was unable to penetrate by foot, notching up more handballs than kicks.
The job done by Bernie Vince in negating the impact of Brownlow medal favourite Rory Sloane was a large factor in this. But more importantly, the pressure of the Demons’ midfield group once the ball hit the deck was elite.
Sam Jacobs had a near all-time high 72 hitouts in the game, yet the Crows were out-gunned in the clearance department 49-38.
The work of Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney inside was tremendous, not to mention the explosiveness of Christian Petracca as the match wore on.
Along with putting the Crows under pressure at the contest, the Demons did an excellent job at keeping a player behind the ball at all times and taking intercept marks.
Michael Hibberd and Nathon Jones led the Demons with eight marks each, while the Crows’ half backs who are so well known for their run and dash were unable to impact the game at a level they are accustomed to.
The gameplan adopted by the Demons closely resembles the success that West Coast and Geelong had against Adelaide on their home deck last season.
By setting up well behind the ball, the Crows struggle to play their brand of footy, and if the opposing team is on top in the middle of the ground they lose all structure and confidence.
For Melbourne to have executed as well as they did without a recognised ruckman or key forward speaks volumes to the hardness of their ball-winners and IQ of their coaching staff.
They truly had the Crows rattled. Coach Don Pyke said of the Melbourne pressure:
“A lot of times we’d win it and we’d be stripped of the ball, and the next ball it would flow to them and they would win the clearance.”
Simon Goodwin echoed a similar sentiment:
“To be 24 points down, and to fight back and to win like that was really pleasing… I thought our tackling pressure as a team just went through the roof and we willed our way back into the game.”
So following a season in which we saw North Melbourne win their first nine games of the season only to barely finish eighth, have the Crows peaked too early?
Or do consecutive losses serve as a reality check that Don Pyke was hopeful his team wouldn’t need?
Have coaches now got a concrete gameplan when coming up against this formidable Crows outfit, or is it simply a matter of when the Crows will adjust and pick up right where they left off two weeks ago against Richmond?
The Crows take on the lowly Brisbane Lions next week, so that will serve as an opportunity to right their wrongs of the last fortnight.
But if we can take away one thing from yesterday’s action, it is that premiership favouritism after eight rounds in season 2017 is a mere myth.