How much can the Bombers attack improve in 2018?

Joel Thompson Roar Rookie

By Joel Thompson, Joel Thompson is a Roar Rookie New author!

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    The less said about Essendon’s 2016 season the better. Fielding the equivalent of a modern-day AFL X team wasn’t going to yield many results. And yet, after that tumultuous season there came hope.

    Following that 3-19, 2016 season, Brendon Goddard (one of the few veteran players who was able to play that year) asked fans to temper expectations about the following season. They had the equal tenth-best odds of making the finals heading into the year and there was the assumption that if they were to make the final eight, the season would be considered an enormous success.

    Looking back now, Bombers fans must be viewing last season as a triumph, even if they did falter in the elimination final against Sydney. Winning 12 games, they finished seventh on the ladder while beating three of the eventual top eight sides along the way (and one decent kick-in away from beating the Swans in Round 14 too).

    So where did the big change in production come from that led the 2016 wooden-spooners to 2017 finalists?

    The answer is probably fairly obvious but here’s a little graph anyway:

    Above is the difference in total goals kicked in the 2017 season, when compared to the 2016 season. Essendon improved across the board last year but nowhere more than where it matters the most – on the scoreboard.

    Obviously, as mentioned, there really was only one way to go after the 2016 year, and that was up. But even then, this is quite an incredible turnaround.

    Consider the difference in goals year-on-year with the plot below:

    That’s Essendon way out on the very top left. They scored 200 goals in the 2016 season (last in the league), and improved on that mark by 55 per cent in 2017, kicking 311 goals (4th). The next biggest jump was by the eventual premiers, Richmond, and that was a proportional increase of 16 per cent. Miniscule when compared to the Bombers. (For those wondering, the top right is the ever-prolific Adelaide Crows).

    Again, this all comes with an asterisk, as something like what happened to Essendon in 2016 has very few prior equivalencies. Maybe the 1940s during World War II? See – not exactly an ideal comparison.

    An interesting tidbit from the data is that Essendon averaged more goals per game against the top six sides than when facing the bottom six teams, so a tougher schedule in 2018 (facing the top six from last year eight times) may not be so likely to impose a drastic challenge as it initially seems.

    This then presents the idea that perhaps Essendon will be even more potent in attack in 2018. But where will these extra goals come from?

    Joe Daniher kicked the most goals by a Bomber since 2006 last year with 62, good for 11th all-time on that list (Matthew Lloyd holds six of the top ten spots!). The best aspect of this was his kicking accuracy improved from previous seasons (up to 62.5%) and the hope is that this will continue heading into 2018.

    By Robert Younger’s xScore stat, Daniher was 17th on the list of best kicks for goal in the 2017 season.

    Daniher was responsible for 20 per cent of Essendon’s goals kicked in 2017, a decrease of just 1.5 per cent from 2016, while being the extreme focal point of that season’s forward line.

    Now, with the inclusions of Jake Stringer and Devon Smith into the team, what is the outlook for Daniher in 2018?

    With most of the top-ten forwards being responsible for around 19-22 per cent of their team’s goals, I can’t see Daniher going higher than this. If Essendon’s midfield improves (which it should), however, the delivery to Daniher should as well, and I can see him pushing the 70-goal mark, as there is really no reason for regression at this stage of his soon-to-be 24-year-old life.

    When tabling the top 150 goal kickers of all time, the player’s sixth season averaged more goals more than any other – and guess which season Joey is coming into.

    Joe Daniher Brendon Goddard AFL Essendon Bombers 2016

    (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

    As you can see in the graph above, goal-scoring options after McDonald-Tipungwuti begin to lag – and that’s where Stringer and Smith come in.

    2017 was obviously not Jake Stringer’s season. Marred by off-field and injury issues, he never quite lived up to the hype following his 2015 and 2016 seasons when he led the Bulldogs in goals (he actually led the team in 2017 as well, but only with 24).

    Stringer wants to become a midfielder with the Bombers, and with the team’s midfield last season being their main weakness, it’s not hard to imagine Stringer kicking 20 goals this season while spending considerable time in the middle and taking some of the heat off Dyson Heppell and Zach Merrett, as well as youngsters Darcy Parish and Andrew McGrath.

    Devon Smith too will be looking to elevate the Bombers midfield while using his pressure skills in the forward line to sneak 15-20 goals himself (he averages just under a goal per game in his career).

    Coming from a team like the GWS Giants, who had 11 players kick over ten goals last year, Smith will have more room to shine and though it may take away some opportunities from the likes of McDonald-Tipungwuti, Colyer and Green, I can’t see it impacting Orazio Fantasia from continuing to produce – and hopefully improve – hovering around the 40-goal mark.

    All this adds to up an even more potent attack for the Bombers in 2018. Adelaide led the league last year with 354 goals in the home-and-away season and if everything is to go right for the Bombers, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they could reach that mark themselves.

    Just as interesting are the two teams ahead of Essendon in goal-scoring from last year: Geelong and Port Adelaide. Both clubs have bolstered their own attacks and will give Adelaide a good run for their money as well (and warrant their own write-up).

    Sure, it could take a short while for things to mesh in the early goings, but with the off-season additions compounded with the only losses being future draft picks, Essendon should be one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. That’s a sentence many will be loath to read.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • February 15th 2018 @ 8:34am
      Harsh Truth Harry said | February 15th 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      The Bombers have a scary forward line and showed as much being the third biggest scorer of 2017 behind the two Adelaide sides. Fantasia and Joey D will be a force for the next decade. The Bombers are mighty fast too. I oredict a domination not seen since 2000 and a premiership. This will have us at 17 flags, clearly the best, most successful side in the comp. And no, you blokes can’t decide to start your record keeping from 1990, doesn’t work that way blokes!

      • Roar Guru

        February 15th 2018 @ 2:06pm
        Paul D said | February 15th 2018 @ 2:06pm | ! Report

        2 flags in the AFL era, not a bad effort, but there’s far more successful clubs around

        It’s rather like Italy still claiming to be the greatest country in the world on the strength of the Roman Empire. Most people would point to the USA and China on the strength of more…recent occurrences

        • February 16th 2018 @ 12:06pm
          Harsh Truth Harry said | February 16th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

          Sorry to tell you but if you call Gilligan at AFL House you will have it confirmed. The VFL competition evolved into the AFL comp, the AFL comp is not a new competition.

          • Roar Guru

            February 16th 2018 @ 12:27pm
            Paul D said | February 16th 2018 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

            One is called the VFL. One is called the AFL.

            When I see butterflies, I don’t think of caterpillars.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 15th 2018 @ 9:02am
      Lamby said | February 15th 2018 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Q: Why did the Bombers miss the 8 in 2017?
      A: Because their defense was terrible and their midfield was slow.

      Q: What was the Bombers strength in 2017?
      A: Their attack – no contest.

      Q: What did the Bombers do in the off season?
      A: Bolster their attack.

      Q: So knowing that the Bombers had holes in their midfield and defense, but their attack was one of the best, by adding more goal kickers, how do you think the Bombers will go in 2018?
      A: Probably about the same and are only a Daniher injury away from missing the 8.

      • Roar Guru

        February 15th 2018 @ 10:10am
        JamesH said | February 15th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report


        The Bombers didn’t miss the 8 in 2017. They finished 7th after round 23.

        Stringer and Smith were both recruited to play significant roles in the middle of the ground (and both are quick, which addresses the speed issue), while for all his attacking flair, Saad is a good one-on-one small defender.

        The Bombers’ backline was actually pretty solid; it was the lack of defensive pressure through the middle that was the problem. Fortunately, you can recruit attacking players and still work on improving the defensive side of your game. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 15th 2018 @ 10:20am
        Joel Thompson said | February 15th 2018 @ 10:20am | ! Report

        Stopping goals is obviously just as important as kicking them and I was going to include some thoughts on that aspect but the article would have just gotten too long.

        For what it’s worth I think Saad’s dash and pressure out of the backline is something they were lacking last year and as long as Hurley and Hooker can stay healthy the defenders should be able to hold their own against the majority of teams (teams like Adelaide, West Coast and Geelong I can still see them having trouble with).

        • February 15th 2018 @ 11:06am
          Ian said | February 15th 2018 @ 11:06am | ! Report

          McKenna and Gleeson provided that dash last year, Saad’s just adding onto that. Saad’s real value will be in releasing Andy McGrath into the midfield, who should be able to provide more defensive pressure that Essendon needs through the middle.

      • February 15th 2018 @ 11:20am
        Harsh Truth Harry said | February 15th 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

        yeah Lamby except we didn’t miss the 8 bloke! Get your facts straight son! Too much time on the mint sauce bloke!

      • February 15th 2018 @ 9:45pm
        Don Julio said | February 15th 2018 @ 9:45pm | ! Report

        A1- essendon made the finals
        A2- correct
        A3- bolster their mid and focus on defense

    • February 15th 2018 @ 9:51am
      Rissole said | February 15th 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

      Thank you for the enjoyable article. I do love graphs.

      You may need to qualify that Joe Daniher’s 62 goals in the H&A season was only the 11th best for Essendon since 1965. It doesn’t even crack the top 20 for the club record.

      In response to Lamby above, it would appear that Stringer and Smith were recruited with midfield minutes in mind (and have been training accordingly). Hopefully being a bit stronger in the middle (Essendon were smashed in the contest and inside 50s last year) will ease the pressure on the defense and the ball won’t go in under so little pressure.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 15th 2018 @ 10:13am
        Joel Thompson said | February 15th 2018 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        Thanks Rissole! Good pickup on the club goal kicking records. I must have been getting my stats from an erroneous source (or more likely: erroneous on my behalf).

    • February 15th 2018 @ 10:41am
      1der said | February 15th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

      Nothing wrong with the forward structure and personnel. This will be the year that determines whether Worsfold can implement the defensive and contested game plans or the game has passed him?
      The opening game of the season against the Crows will be a good indicator as the Bombers were thumped at Docklands last year. Adelaide’s depth is going to be tested this year having 13 players with no AFL experience and 6 others with less than 25 games under their belt. No Lever on the list and Smith missing for the year will be a work in progress early into the season with regard to backline personnel.

    • February 15th 2018 @ 12:50pm
      Ditto said | February 15th 2018 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

      I think playing at Ethiad is a bit of a two edge sword. If you run and gun and just have one of those days, you rain goals and look a million dollars, Essendon v Port, St Kilda v Richmond, but you go away and it doesn’t quite work like that elsewhere, you come back to Ethiad and it starts messing with your head. In 2015 the Bulldogs were a high scoring team, in 2016 they found a way to win at Ethiad with low scores and won a Premiership, in 2017 they were neither one thing or the other. I think there’s a good chance, that if Essendon go up the table, they may actually score less.

    • February 15th 2018 @ 2:29pm
      Jonesracing82 said | February 15th 2018 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

      Thier attack was thier greatest asset last yr, Defence was the issue, conceeding the most pts by any Top 8 side.

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