Ralph: Why Dons are footy’s ‘ultimate tease’
Essendon is football's ultimate tease.
One week Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti is footy's $600,000-a-year ice man, the next he is missing in action.
Jake Stringer can go from a four-goal Essendon hero to a seven-possession passenger on the road to nowhere.
It is part of the challenge of analysing Essendon to draw a line through any player or trend of play.
Because every player is capable of soaring highs but can put in the kind of performances that collectively see them concede 21 consecutive goals to an opponent below them on the table.
If Essendon had lost by five goals to the Dogs on Saturday we would have written it off as yet another bad patch all mid-road teams go through.
Like GWS in its pair of losses to Hawthorn and the Dogs in losses to Gold Coast and Carlton
What is apparent in trying to explain Essendon's situation is that they are just distinctly middle of the road.
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Essendon has no great strength to their game plan, the numbers proving they are exactly where they deserve to be.
So when their effort is non-existent as it was on Saturday night, they have no specific strength in their structure to absorb that deficiency.
Essendon doesn't play the territory game, sitting 15th in time-in-forward half differential and 15th for inside-50 differential.
They are 16th for scores from the forward half, only nine points ahead of miserable old Coast.
They thrive as a clearance team, but the real issues is teams account for only about 10 per cent of their score from that source.
They are No. 3 for centre clearance differential and No. 5 for scoring from centre clearances.
But their ruck issues remain, with Zac Clarke statistically the worst ruckmen in the competition of the 30 to play regularly.
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On talent Zac Merrett is the league's 16th ranked player and Dylan Shiel No. 29, but both have run hot and cold this year.
Orazio Fantasia has been held goalless in five of seven losses, with McDonald-Tipungwuti now having kicked only two goals in nine losses compared to 24 goals in 11 wins.
Essendon sits 13th on the ladder for percentage, which is as accurate an indicator as any in the competition.
What Champion Data can't rate is the intangibles.
When John Worsfold sits motionless on the bench like a stunned mullet is it footy's best poker face or him giving the players time to regain composure?
When they fail to come to play in Rounds 1 and 2, as well as the last six quarters, are they mentally weak or is it just a temporary aberration?
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Ross Lyon has poked the bear, so does Worsfold unleash the feral beast of his playing days or do the Bombers go quietly into the night?
The coach, the players, the playing system and the club's leaders - all eyes will be on them to see who wants to step up, and who steps off?