‘Suffering from paralysis-by-analysis’: Adelaide Crows have gone from box office sensation to under-performing turkeys


No team kicked more goals than Adelaide last season and only one team has kicked less this year – what the hell has happened?

The city of Adelaide, for the second year in a row, has been a place of celebration for Gather Round, with 18 clubs, 9 games, three venues, many tens of thousands of footy fans descending on the city.

Port Adelaide, the other local team, stood up to the occasion, playing their most convincing football of the year to dominate an Essendon that had been playing very well to that point of the season.

The Power dazzled through the exploits of Connor Rozee, Zac Butters and Jason Horne-Francis.

It all serves to highlight just how poorly the Crows are travelling in 2024.

Common wisdom suggests that Adelaide fell apart following the 2017 grand final loss to Richmond, owing to the infamous boot camp that tore a hole in the fabric of the club, but it wasn’t quite the case based on results.

The Crows won 12 games in 2018 and 10 in 2019, both under grand final coach Don Pyke, with a percentage of over 100 in those years. They were still more than competitive, and were in fact sitting in the eight after Round 20 in 2019.

Matthew Nicks took the reins in 2020, and there could be no more challenging time for a first-time senior coach than the COVID years that followed.

They “won” the wooden spoon in 2020, and finished 15th in 2021 – their 10 wins across those two seasons were the second fewest of any club, with only perennial basket case North Melbourne faring worse.

In 2022, Adelaide increased their wins to eight, but became more competitive overall, increasing their percentage from 81 to 86, and in 2023 jumped up to 11 wins and a percentage of 116.

David King on his pre-match chat with Matthew Nicks:

???? Matthew Nicks did not agree with Kings stance that the Crows midfield is vanilla.

???? Nicks stepped King through some footage to show him what he thought was going wrong.

(SEN on Fireball Friday)#WeFlyAsOne #AFLCrowsDees pic.twitter.com/bFJDMAFpuF

— JΛDelaide (@JADelaideX) April 7, 2024

They had the highest average winning margin in the league, of 46 points, and an average losing margin of only 15 points, with only Melbourne faring better on that particular statistic.

It spoke of a maturing team that could stay in games against the best sides, but also blow the opposition away when they got on a run.

The Crows are averaging the same amount of disposals and inside 50s as last season, but whereas last year they ranked fourth for marks inside 50 with over 13 per game, this year they are stone cold last and barely averaging six.

The disposal efficiency has a similar correlation, albeit it’s worth noting they played in very wet conditions in Round 1.

Adelaide seems to simultaneously be more conservative with their ball movement in 2024, but also using it poorly. Where they were once a box office sensation forward of centre, now they are performing like turkeys.

Ben Keays , Josh Worrell, Jordan Dawson and Izak Rankine of the Crows leave the ground dissapointed after their Gather Round loss to Melbourne. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

In 2023, Taylor Walker kicked 76 goals and was made All Australian, Izak Rankine and Darcy Fogarty had their best seasons and kicked mid-30s, while Luke Pedlar made his mark as a hard-charging half-forward, Josh Rachele captivated and excited, and Ben Keays fulfilled his duties as a tackling role player, with all three kicking 20+ goals.

They were unpredictable and caused headaches to opposition defences, who struggled to contain all of them at once.

Now, Walker doesn’t seem to be moving as freely and his kicking has deserted him, Fogarty and Rachele have regressed, Pedlar has been dropped, and Keays has been having minimal impact.

Rankine is the only one of that forward six that has at least maintained his level, if not slightly improved, and has been trying to figure out a way for his team to get their mojo back.

Nicks is now in his fifth season as senior coach, and is contracted for two more after this, to the end of 2026. It’s hard to know if those contracts are worth the paper they’re written on these days, given the club-friendly pay-out clauses that exist upon a sacking.

Right now, his team is playing with a complete lack of dare and freedom, save for a few periods in the last quarter in their losses to Gold Coast, Geelong and Melbourne, where the scoreboard dictated that they play with more attack to try and find a last-gasp way to win those games.

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This is a playing group that might be suffering from paralysis-by-analysis, and Adelaide are having the type of season whereby a coaching restructure takes place at the end of it.

Everyone admits that they were focused on the wrong things, over-coaching, and taking away players instinct. It’s a hard lesson to pay, and it feels like a wasted season, but sometimes there can be a pot of gold to follow.

In the next five weeks, the Crows have Carlton in Melbourne, Essendon at home, North away, before testing assignments in Adelaide against Port and Brisbane.

They are staring at 1-8 or 2-7, and 2025 planning can already begin.

Progression usually isn’t linear, and no teams rises up the ladder to contention without a setback along the way.

This year will be one for Adelaide, but they’ll have run out of excuses next season, which shapes as making finals or Nicks finding another home.

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