The Unrecognisable Eagles Are Running Out Of Time
Welcome to the funhouse!
Gold Coast are second, Port Adelaide are the best team in the league, while Richmond and West Coast are in the bottom five.
An extraordinary season always promised to throw up abnormal results, and right now, the Eagles are abnormality’s biggest victim.
In fact, this Eagles team is unrecognisable.
The prime Eagles were coldly efficient going forward, experts at withstanding pressure in defensive 50, using the ball creatively with scything passes to weave their way out of defence via uncontested marks.
They blended toughness, finesse and patience like no one else, with an ability to make a complicated, brutal game seem incredibly delicate and simple.
There is none of that anymore.
Now everything is plagued with doubt, angst and, more than anything, hesitation.
There's no game style or cohesive ambition – instead there are just players making one-off decisions- often the wrong ones.
West Coast had four uncontested marks in the first quarter against Port Adelaide. In last year’s elimination final win over Essendon, they had 111 for the match en route to their 55-point triumph.
Right now, all the West Coast wiring is off.
The Eagles showed up to the Port game with intent, but not much else - they were intent to be intent, but with no sense of a plan and no collective movement.
The defence is leaking goals and the forward line is leaking rebounds. Their 6.8 tackles inside-50 per game is ranked 15th in the league.
There's no menace at ground level, nor enough spread, suffocation or sustained pressure.
For stretches against Port, the Eagles were interested and trying, but even then there was little connection in their play - every possession existed in its own universe with no flow to the next.
The midfield is still a little disjointed, but at times its sheer talent was still able to overwhelm Port at stoppages. In the third quarter particularly, Tim Kelly could be seen dangerously sidestepping opponents, while Elliot Yeoand Luke Shuey were smashing the ball forward.
Despite losing by a round-high 48-points, the Eagles won the clearances by 13 and were able to break even where contested football was concerned.
It was everywhere else where the Eagles issues were magnified.
Jack Darling took one mark on the weekend, and of his four touches, three were clangers. He's kicked 3.2 in four matches this season and was man-handled by Trent McKenzie in one-on-ones.
Josh Kennedy's re-animation against Port - kicking four goals and grabbing seven marks - was a rare bright spot for a still impotent forward line that's averaging just 52.2 points per game and is yet to kick more than 6 goals in any of its past three games.
On Saturday, the always-reliable Eagle's captain Shannon Hurn missed contests and gave away bizarre ruck-infringement free kicks. Without any pressure, Lewis Jetta kicked short passes over teammates' heads, while Will Schofield head-butted people.
There were brief flashes where West Coast looked like who they are supposed to be.
Their first goal came from Yeo hitting a centre-bounce tap at pace and tumbling the ball forward, where Darling and Kennedy, giants side-by-side, attacked the drop of the ball and it found Kennedy's chest.
A second quarter passage where Shuey - the team's best player and gallant again - showed some initiative in defence, playing on and hitting Dom Sheed in the corridor, with their Grand Final hero duly wheeling around and whipping a pass to the wing.
All of a sudden there was space and life, and it was like 2018 all over again.
However the 2020 version of the Eagles showed up soon thereafter.
They couldn't lock the ball in their attacking half to save themselves (the inside-50 count was 15-5 Port's way), while they were mostly clueless exiting defence. They handballed to players about to be tackled, often frustratedly looking up to see no outlet options on the wing over and over again.
The contrast with the undefeated Port was emphatic. The Eagles are completely lost, while the Power are playing with total confidence and cohesion – every Port Adelaide decision on the ground seems automatic, as though the mind knows in advance exactly what needs to be done- the body just has to execute. There's no angst - just movement.
Charlie Dixon is playing like the best forward in the game right now. Forward 50 feels likes his space entirely, and as though the smaller people around him are simply extras in his own motion picture - only highlighting everything that Darling isn't doing at the other end of the field at the moment.
Before the West Coast game, the Power sceptics pointed to the lack of quality opponents they'd beaten. In taking that angle, nothing much has changed. The Eagles aren't a scalp to celebrate right now.
However one suspects that they will be soon. There's too much talent on the list, the coach is too good, and a run of games in Perth is looming.
Time is however running out for the Eagles to be the team they were supposed to be.
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