Carlton looked all but certain to contend for the flag at the start of 2023. With Michael Voss entering his second year as coach after a relatively successful 2022 campaign, it looked likely. Surprisingly, a flag now seems to be completely out of the question as the Blues look like taking yet another early holiday in September.
Season 2022 for the Blues could be labelled a disappointment. Missing finals once again led many to criticise the team and coaching efforts towards the pointy end of the season. While making finals seemed to be the benchmark, they did improve considerably under Voss. They jumped from 13th in 2021 to ninth in 2022, winning four more games and finishing with a positive win/loss record for the first time since 2011.
Currently, their record sits at four wins, six losses and a draw.
To top off an improved 2022 campaign, skipper Patrick Cripps won his first Brownlow Medal. Amazingly, he has more Brownlow's than finals appearances, a feat which is almost impossible to believe. More individual efforts were recognised with the inclusion of Adam Saad, Charlie Curnow, Sam Walsh and Jacob Weitering (along with Cripps) in the 2022 44-man All-Australian side. Three of those five (Saad, Curnow and Cripps) made the final team, with the latter being named vice-captain.
After improving on almost every facet of the game in 2022, the Blues have shockingly gone backwards in 2023 across key areas.
Carlton's average winning margin this season is just over 37 points. On paper, this mean seems to prove that the Blues have no issue with scoring. However, one of four wins came through a 108-point demolition job of the West Coast Eagles. This win drastically skews their average winning margin, and removing it leaves the Blues with an average winning margin of just under 14 points.
In 2022, the Blues averaged 84.5 points a game, whilst in 2023 that number is down to 76.7 points a game. After removing the outlying West Coast game, their average is down to 69.2 points a game, and as it stands, the Blues are currently 15th in scoring across the competition - sitting above only the bottom three in Hawthorn, North Melbourne and West Coast.
It's very hard to believe that the Blues can't score with two Coleman medallists. Understandably, the pair get the most attention from defenders every week, so their impact may be limited. The game plan which seems to be 'kick it to either Curnow or McKay and hope they mark it' isn't sustainable.
The Blues need more avenues when it comes to scoring. They aren't lacking in small forwards either. Matthew Owies, Jesse Motlop and Corey Durdin look lively when they play, however, their impact is below average.
Relying on two forwards to kick all their goals isn't going to win the Blues many games this year. The best-scoring teams in the competition don't win this way, they have the personnel around the ground that can score at will. Carlton's midfield could potentially aid in turning this around. Disposals are great but there needs to be some impact on the scoreboard from the likes of Cripps, Walsh and Adam Cerra.
Carlton started the season in a very defensive way. In 2022, their early season dominance (going 8-2 in the first ten weeks) was due to their fast ball movement and aggressiveness through the corridor. Cripps was playing as good of footy as he had his whole career in dominating the clearance. Their transition from backline to goal-scoring opportunities was arguably the best in the competition. So what happened?
The game plan now is very strange. A lot of chip kicks sideways and plenty of backwards movement is not how Carlton won games last year. They seem to be trying to play a possession brand of footy that simply doesn't stack up with the best in the competition.
The top sides of 2023 so far move the ball quickly and in numbers. For example, Collingwood tends to transition the ball as one unit. Although this opens them up for a counter-attack, it is incredibly difficult to stop when they get going. Similarly, Adelaide has done the same. They swarm in numbers and restrict the opposition from getting the ball clear.
The Blues' key defenders on paper have maintained their success. Jacob Weitering and Lewis Young were a dominant pair in 2022, with the former improving most of his numbers in 2023. Weitering is involved in a lot more contests than last year, however, it's arguably not his fault.
The defensive pressure starts up forward and throughout the midfield. Defenders can read the play and perform well in one-on-one situations. The rest is out of their control. The Carlton backline is bombarded most weeks with a lack of effort and intensity around the ground putting pressure on their back six. It's a weakness in their game they must fix.
They average fewer tackles inside forward 50 than last year and aren't as aggressive in the back half of the ground. It's detrimental to the way they must play to win.
The issues at Carlton aren't going to be resolved overnight. Rather than panicking and putting up yet another coach for the sack, adjust the magnets and through experimentation come up with a solution.
It's time to start playing around with certain players. Challenge some of the underperforming stars on the list. Put some of them out of position every now and again. Try something different that the opposition won't expect. Kicking to the same spot down the line does not work in the modern game. Opposition sides expect that gameplan from the Blues.
Shake it up and results (in theory) should follow.