One of the AFL premiership fancies heading into the 2020 season, Collingwood have never really got going in a sputtering season littered with offensive struggles and big-name injuries. The Pies are yet to live up to their preseason flag contender status.
Securing their place in the top eight with a hard fought 22-point win over Gold Coast in Round 16, the Collingwood forward line showed signs of life, largely thanks to the inclusion of Jordan De Goey and his four-goal masterclass.
Individual brilliance aside, there was method to their scoring success on Monday night. A method that will need to be replicated if they are to extend their season deep into October.
Collingwood rank No. 1 in the AFL for disposals (324 per game) and uncontested possessions (199 per game). They love to control the ball by foot, shuffling side-to-side and up the line, searching for a crack in the opposition's defence which can allow them a scoring opportunity.
In many respects, their style is similar to that of Geelong, who rank second for disposals (313 per game) and third for uncontested possessions (188 per game).
Despite this similarity, the Pies have registered 33 fewer shots on goal than Geelong in 2020 (according to statsinsider.com.au) resulting in a staggering scoring differential of -244 for the black and white -- or two and a half goals per game.
Supply hasn't been an issue for Collingwood, with their 42.4 inside 50s falling 0.5 below Geelong's average, but the scoring efficiency of those entries is where the story lies - Collingwood score on just 41.4 percent of inside 50s compared to Geelong's 49.1.
The added potency for the Cats can be largely attributed to the presence of Tom Hawkins, a primetime one-on-one threat inside 50 and a bail-out option close to the goal that the Magpies simply haven't had.
De Goey may be smaller in stature than Hawkins, but he looms as being just as significant to the Magpies' October success.
From Brody Mihocek to Jaidyn Stephenson to Will Hoskin-Elliot to Mason Cox to Jamie Elliott, the Pies have been searching for a consistent target up forward with little success.
Playing mainly as a deep forward, De Goey has booted nine goals across his past two appearances against the Cats and Suns, six of those majors coming from within 35m of goal. A one-on-one threat as great as any mid-size forward in the league, the Pies must tilt the risk vs. reward scale slightly more towards the risk, unleashing De Goey in the process.
De Goey back in the line up withstanding, the Pies need to move the ball with urgency to maximise their scoring potential.
The biggest concern with playing slow possession-style football is starving your forwards of all-important one-on-one opportunities.
Of course, winning the centre clearance and taking advantage of the 6-6-6 rule is one way to avoid the congestion, but another is to attack through the corridor with urgency.
According to Champion Data, Collingwood rank seventh in the AFL for corridor use from the defensive 50 (17.5 percent) - seemingly a good number. But the deeper problem lies with the fact they rank 16th for percentage of scores from defensive 50 (11.5 percent).
While Collingwood may not be allergic to going through the middle, they aren't doing it in ways that open up scoring opportunities which is largely the purpose of taking the dangerous route with the ball.
Without that traditional contested marking target up forward ala Hawkins, a conservative style has led to heavy traffic within their arc, drying up isolated match-ups and scoring opportunities in the process.
Against the Suns, Collingwood were able to create space inside 50 by taking risks in order to attack through the corridor.
1) Collingwood rank No. 1 in the AFL in disposals and No. 1 in uncontested disp. They love to control the footy. A lack of a key forward target has been an issue but look what happens with Taylor Adams pulls the trigger on an aggressive corridor kick...1-on-1 for De Goey. pic.twitter.com/C20vzht4xw— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) September 17, 2020
The above clip is a perfect illustration of how you can utilise open space inside 50 against a pressing defence with quick decision making. While the ball is in scramble mode for a while, the composure of Taylor Adams to spot Travis Varcoe in the middle was the release. The entry wasn't perfect but the decision to execute the corridor pass from Adams opened up a one-on-one for De Goey inside the arc.
2) Here's an example from the exact same area on the ground. Hoskin-Elliott looks in board but chips sideways and ultimately allows the Suns to roll their defence across the field. It's tough to penetrate at this point. pic.twitter.com/1EE40wkwGh— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) September 17, 2020
The comparison from clip one to clip two is telling. Hoskin-Elliot scans inboard before taking the conservative decision to go sideways to Darcy Moore. Moore is put under pressure by the play-on call but again decides to shuffle the ball sideways with the switch. Ultimately, a poor skill error from Josh Thomas results in a stoppage but the initial conservative decision-making allowed the Suns' defence to roll across and set up behind the ball.
3) Behind the ground vision shows how the quick corridor use left the Suns backline scrambling to fill space in their defensive 50. The kick was intended for Jamie Elliott streaming toward goal but the attacking decision making pays off regardless. pic.twitter.com/FQjSEa1eCp— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) September 17, 2020
The behind-the-goal vision on the third clip gives an example of how quick ball movement -- particularly through the middle -- leaves the opposition defence scrambling. The entry kick was intended for Elliott to the bottom right of screen streaming toward goal, but it still results in an uncontested mark 30m out as the Suns were unable to get numbers back in time to fill the space.
Of course, playing with that attacking style can be fraught with danger without the appropriate personnel. One player who looms as a surprise X-factor for the Pies could be Round 16 rising star nominee Isaac Quaynor.
At just 20 years of age and a mere 12 games into his career, Quaynor gives Collingwood a point of difference from the backline.
4) Forget Adelaide complaining about the rising star, Isaac Quaynor can be an x-factor for Collingwood in the finals. His kicking efficiency of 81% is elite and they should look to use him out of defence at every opportunity - particularly through the corridor. pic.twitter.com/QBsr6h93hu— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) September 17, 2020
His ability to penetrate by foot distinguishes him as the Magpies' most lethal user out of the backline. With a kicking efficiency of 81 percent (second at Collingwood), he adds an element of excitement and flair to a back half that can at times be dour in their decision-making. His kicking ability should be utilised regularly when launching a forward attack.
There's no denying the obvious: Collingwood have been hit by injuries to key players as much as any club in the competition and it's worth pointing out that timing is everything when it comes to executing a premiership assault.
Perhaps more leniency should be given to the Pies' scoring woes given the extend absence of a host of stars, but with skipper Scott Pendlebury, Adam Treloar and De Goey back in the mix, the Pies have the opportunity to position themselves as a finals wildcard.
One thing we can be sure of - scoring against the Magpies will be tough. The question remains whether they can score enough down the other end to keep their season alive.
Perhaps, a little more dare could be just the tonic they need.