Transition trouble: The numbers that place the Bombers below North and the Eagles

Talking points

  • Essendon’s ability to stop opposition teams rebound is the worst in the AFL
  • The Bombers are worse at defending the opposition running at them with the ball than any team in the competition – including North Melbourne and West Coast

Essendon’s defence is like eating soup with a fork – the opposition just slides right by them.

The Bombers are worse at defending the opposition running at them with the ball than any team in the competition. That’s right: Essendon is worse than North Melbourne and West Coast, on this critical element of the game at least.

A dejected Essendon group after their SCG loss to the Swans.Credit:Getty Images

The most important feature of modern football is being able to transition the ball. It is a side’s ability to win the ball back in their own defence and take it to the other end with unbroken chains of play and preferably then score.

It is a cornerstone of the new style of game, where attack is the best form of defence. It is the feature of the game where how a side sets up behind the ball to defend losing possession is just as important as how they attack their goal.

And, on these critical measures, Essendon is failing and is the worst in the competition.

In statistician speak, the Bombers are last for conceding an inside-50 from an opposition rebound-50 chain. In English, that means that 35 per cent of the time the opposition wins the ball back in the Bombers’ forward line, they are able to take it to the other end of the ground to inside their forward 50-metre arc unimpeded. By contrast, this happens to Fremantle only 18 per cent of the time. Essendon are last in the competition for this stat.

Worse than that, 16 per cent of the time the opposition take the ball out of the Bombers’ forward line they take it to the other end and score. In contrast, Fremantle are scored against in these situations just four per cent of the time.

For a side that has won two games, ranking below North and West Coast takes some beating.

These figures are simply a way, like the tackle count, of trying to quantify how bad Essendon have been.

Ben Rutten wanted to bring a sense of Richmond-style team defence to Essendon, but the only similarity to Richmond presently is the sash on the jumpers.

The tackle figures speak to effort and are the singular stat that condemns the current inconsistent work ethic at Essendon. Since 2005, Saturday’s game when the Bombers only laid 30 tackles was the second-lowest tackle figure by an Essendon team. For perspective, Swan Callum Mills laid 13 tackles.

Troublingly, two of the lowest tackle counts for an Essendon team in that period since 2005 have come this season. The other was in round two against the Lions, when they only put on 32 tackles.

Unsurprisingly, the Bombers are ranked last in the AFL for tackles. Now, being a low tackling side might not necessarily be a bad thing if it means you have the ball and are not trying to win it back and, if by extension, you are winning games. Essendon are not.

Luke Parker mocking the Bombers’ Dylan Shiel.Credit:Fox Footy

The tackle count tries to offer a qualitative measure of why they are poor, proving that the effort is down and explaining why it is that the opposition are finding it easy to run through them in transition uninterrupted.

What Matthew Lloyd pointed out about the absence of any player remonstrating with Sydney, and making a stand for the team, was fair and accurate. This is not to advocate thuggishness, but physically standing up to an opposition to defend a teammate is pretty much a baseline in team contact sports.

To stand by and watch Luke Parker mime to Dylan Shiel that he was jumpy and flinched demanded a response. The fact it was hard to see what Parker was doing because Shiel didn’t appear to do anything wrong – jump out of the way, flinch or look spooked – only made the pantomime look more unfair and demanding of a reaction.

What has made the effort from the Essendon players on Saturday most difficult to accept was that the final quarter comeback against Hawthorn the week prior was built on pressure, tackles and hunting the opposition.

That quarter appeared to be, and should have been, their penny drop moment when they grasped what their new minimum needed to be. But, a week later, complacency had set back in. If the penny had dropped the week before, the sound it made echoed to an empty room.

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