MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 09: The Crows look dejected after a loss during the 2023 AFL Round 17 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Adelaide Crows at Marvel Stadium on July 9, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

At Round 16, Adelaide may have been the best offensive team in the competition, having just dispatched of North Melbourne in one of many Adelaide Oval masterclasses produced by Matthew Nicks' men this season.

They ranked first in the AFL for goals per inside 50 and goal assists, but were also top five in essentially every notable forward 50 stat, including marks, goals, shots, accuracy and contest win percentage.

Against all odds, Taylor Walker transcended expectations to become one of the most box-office key forwards in the competition with the potential to win a maiden All-Australian blazer and even a Coleman Medal.

Prized recruit Izak Rankine slotted seamlessly into the Adelaide front half, taking the league by storm through the first five rounds with multiple goal of the year contenders and an unaccredited best-on-ground performance in a showdown victory.

Josh Rachele took major steps forward in his development, ripping games apart with a  midfield-forward presence and style similar to Connor Rozee.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Josh Rachele and Luke Pedlar of the Crows celebrate a goal during the 2023 AFL Round 07 match between the Adelaide Crows and the Collingwood Magpies at Adelaide Oval on April 30, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Darcy Fogarty turned himself into an ideal secondary key forward behind 'Tex' with his ability to take strong marks on lead and slot set-shot drop punts from anywhere inside 50.

Fans also saw improvement from the like of Luke Pedlar, Lachlan Murphy, Jake Soligo and Ned McHenry through the first half of the season, with Riley Thilthorpe always on the cusp of a breakout period.

It looked like the Crows had a forward line to be reckoned with for the next decade, with drastic improvements in their front-half structure and movement from last season to this season.

Their performance at the MCG against the ladder-leading Magpies suggested to all that they were the real deal with an ability to gain momentum at the home of football and challenge the league's best.

Unfortunately, Rounds 17 and 18 have flipped the script on their season trajectory, with two poor losses in a row leaving Adelaide 12th on the ladder with a tough draw approaching.

These losses have shun light on their surprising inability to notch consecutive victories and additionally ramped up accusations of being flat-track bullies.

Essendon at Marvel and GWS in Adelaide presented two very winnable matches that could have potentially placed them 5th on the current ladder had they been able to collect the eight points, or 6th if they could collect the four.

Instead, they fumbled both and now sit behind Richmond, Carlton, GWS, Essendon, the Western Bulldogs and St Kilda despite a far superior percentage to all.

Their forward potency has been put on hold for two weeks now, with Geelong, Collingwood, Port Adelaide and Brisbane all clearly ahead of them on the offensive side of play.

They are at risk of dropping four matches in a row having to face Melbourne at the MCG this weekend, before a Round 20 Showdown with Port Adelaide who remain entrenched in the top two. Brisbane at the Gabba follows in Round 22 and also presents a near-certain loss in a now-fading season.

Nicks would be scratching his head at how the season has slipped so quickly and how the discussions surrounding Adelaide have shifted from how high their ceiling is, to the declining form of Rankine and the undisciplined actions of Rachele.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Izak Rankine of the Crows misses a goal during the 2023 AFL Round 07 match between the Adelaide Crows and the Collingwood Magpies at Adelaide Oval on April 30, 2023 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Walker has lost his spot atop the Coleman Medal race and couldn't manage a single disposal in the second half of their loss to GWS.

Suddenly, the Crows are not the inside 50 marking team that they were in the first half of the year, they are losing more 1v1 contests and have lost their accurate touch in front of goal.

Just a fortnight ago they were a team many picked to make finals and inflict some damage once they got there. Now they are a fringe chance with a best-case scenario seeming to be a round one exit at the hands of Geelong or Essendon or the Bulldogs.

Even if they can pull off one upset in the next two matches, they likely remain 12th on the ladder.

Of course, they were a rebuilding team as recently as last season and their future potential is self-evident, but they are at risk of taking further steps backward in their progression and becoming yet another middling team in 2023.

Moreover, Fremantle, Sydney and Carlton have already set the precedent for the underwhelming rebound season with their perplexing runs of form this year compared to last.

Sydney were a grand finalist that became decimated by injury, Fremantle were semi-finalists who are now facing questions regarding the sustainability of their brand, and Carlton virtually internalised through the first half of the season after failing to qualify for finals in heartbreaking fashion last year.

While the future looks bright, all possibilities are open for Adelaide and there is no certainty of simply improving with more experience and maturing age.

For the first time this season, pressure is firmly on Nicks to respond to adversity and make something of a now-fading season.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 05: Matthew Nicks, Senior Coach of the Crows during the 2022 AFL Community Series match between the Adelaide Crows and the Port Adelaide Power at Richmond Oval on March 5, 2022 In Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Sarah Reed/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Their performance this Sunday against Melbourne will be telling; without Rachele and expected to back up their last MCG effort against another premiership contender.

Nicks did express confidence after their weekend loss in his side's ability to put up a similar MCG performance to last. Footy fans will also hope for something similar this Sunday at 3:20pm when Melbourne hosts Adelaide in yet another season-shaping clash in 2023.