As impressive as the Crows have been in 2023, a loss against Collingwood will end their chances of playing finals.
It’s a tough one because at their best, usually at Adelaide Oval, the Crows play a style of footy that would have them on the fringes of the top four and in the conversation as a dark horse for the flag.
Therefore playing away from home against the league’s best outfit and having that as the team’s season-defining game may seem strange, but it seems we have come to a bit of a turning point in the Crows’ season.
It’s awfully simplistic, but let’s first take a look at the fixture. They’ve played 13 games, eight of which have been at the Adelaide Oval. One was the first Showdown of the season, so we can happily look at it as seven of 12 games have been played at home, of which Adelaide has won five.
One loss was in Round 2 against the Tigers after the turnaround in conditions and times from the first round didn’t suit at all, while the one-point loss to Collingwood could’ve been something else.
Generally, they’ve been a dominant team at home. High-scoring, aggressive and physically demanding, Adelaide hasn’t shied away from any challenge at home and it’s elevated their stocks in all our eyes.
In the five games away from home thus far, they’ve won once, a late miracle against the lowly-ranked Hawks. Their shots on goal decrease significantly as their ball movement feels stifled, restricted at different venues with different conditions.
There are 10 games left in the season for the Crows. Five are at home, five are away, one of the home games is another Showdown against a different Port Adelaide team to the one they beat earlier this season.
At Adelaide Oval, they’ve got North Melbourne, GWS, Gold Coast, Sydney and the rivals. They’d start favourites in four of the games and those should be pencilled in as wins, although the Suns and Swans later in the season could well be tricky. Still, let’s call it 11 wins.
Then there are the away games – Collingwood, Essendon, Melbourne, Brisbane and West Coast.
Throw the lock and key away for the Eagles game, which makes 12. You might want to suggest the Bombers game should be a win, but the Crows have lost five in a row against that opposition and five of their last six at Marvel Stadium.
Say you want to group the Suns, Swans and Bombers games together and suggest one of those may be dropped. We’re suggesting that if the season ticks along as we think, it’s a tentative 12-win season.
Twelve wins could be enough to make finals, but only because of the closeness of the season and the potential that six teams could finish with that number. It’s likely we’ll see percentage separate a third of the competition.
We admitted it’s a simplistic view of things, but fixturing and venues are a part of the game and when you’ve got a team that’s a bit unpredictable, these things tend to be in focus a little more.
It’s where the focus shifts a little onto the defensive side of things and in particular, the absence of Tom Doedee for the rest of the season.
If you look at his season stats on whichever platform you choose to, they’re going to be negatively skewed. He only played a few minutes against the Suns when he hurt his knee but the numbers don’t take that into account.
He was and for a number of years, has been the heartbeat of this Adelaide defence. There aren’t many better readers of the play in the entire competition. He’s rated elite for intercept possessions and intercept marks, he’s an above average help defender who takes responsibility for opponents on his own and this season, he contributed at a higher-level offensively.
It’s also the leadership and intangible standard setting that Doedee provides that is harder to replace than the position he plays itself.
The Crows have Josh Worrell, a second consecutive week of admitted bias as being a big fan, and his height and hands are perhaps even better suited to the role of a third-tall, but his inexperience alongside a relatively inexperienced key defensive duo may hurt.
Nick Murray’s development this season and continued above average play is vital from here on in, as he’s become the premier key defender at the club.
Crows fans will be disappointed in the absence of their defensive leader, a man who was seemingly earmarked to be captain previously, but there’s also the underlying, very real factor that many have thought Doedee would leave the club. His absence now only serves to bring opportunities forward, some would argue.
Yet with rumours of an Essendon duo amongst other defensive targets suggested, it’s not as if the Crows would leave a gaping hole in defence heading into 2024. You also can’t bring in Mason Redman in Round 15 of 2023.
So now, we look again at the fixtures, and note the fact that most of the teams in the upcoming run for the Crows offer high-octane, powerful offensive units. We then have to consider that this team has to rely on Murray, Butts, Worrell and Michalanney to combat it.
Talented young players individually, but Doedee’s absence becomes a little harder to navigate.
Being able to clone Jordan Dawson would be lovely right about now for the Crows as he’s the perfect replacement for Doedee, but his midfield craft and lack of quality depth this season in that part of the field means it’s a positional switch that’s hard to see coming.
Of course, this is an Adelaide team with plenty of positives.
They’re the most efficient offensive team with such great variety up forward, the two midfield stars are incredible, the pressure numbers and ability to win the contested ball is almost unrivalled and the number of players under 23 that have been unearthed means, put simply, this season is a success regardless of the end result.
Data analysts believe momentum is the biggest myth in the world, but confidence is contagious and if the Crows get on a roll, all of this will seem silly and they’ll challenge for a flag.
But they’ve had it pretty good in the first half of 2023 and the good signs we’ve seen are almost along the lines of what we expected. Their best is scintillating. Their worst is mediocre. They have only one tenured player on their injury list.
And while we see some friendly names in the run home, the path to September is fraught with danger for the Crows and it seems the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to disappear.
It brings us back to a single, post-bye game against Collingwood at the MCG.
Their pressure really challenges the Magpies. If Adelaide is switched on across half-forward, they’ll limit the transition of the flag favourites.
If the Crows are slow out of the blocks, it could be a mauling. At that point, the tentative 12-win total that would make this team fringe finalists will look a bridge too far. Without their defensive stalwart, it’s even harder.
Adelaide faces its toughest challenge of the season with their entire 2023 on the line.
Win, and they play finals.
Lose, and they’re out.