Dennis Armfield played a crucial role in Carlton's win against Adelaide
IT'S PERHAPS no coincidence that Carlton has won its past two games against strong opposition given it has quelled the influence of key playmakers on both occasions.
Blues stopper Dennis Armfield believes these successes – both individual and collective – against 2012 finallists West Coast and Adelaide were the result of playing more as a team, executing coach Mick Malthouse's defence-first game plan for longer periods, and striking a better balance between offense and defence.
At Patersons Stadium in round four, Armfield put the clamps on defensive architect Shannon Hurn, Ed Curnow blanketed outside runner Andrew Gaff, and Andrew Carrazzo contained veteran Daniel Kerr before being swung onto Scott Selwood.
Armfield (16 touches and a goal) was largely responsible for keeping superstar Patrick Dangerfield to just 20 disposals, three clearances and no goals; Carrazzo (25 touches, seven clearances and a goal) restricted the usually prolific Scott Thompson to 24 possessions (only six contested), and Curnow (17) limited Rory Sloane to a season-low 19 disposals.
"We've been fairly happy with the jobs we've done over the past couple of weeks, and Curnow and 'Carrots' (Carrazzo) were great again," Armfield told AFL.com.au.
"But it's not just you that does the job; it's also those around you – guys like Mitch Robinson, Kane Lucas and even 'Murph' (skipper Marc Murphy), who cover for you at times. When you're doing a job on a bloke and he slips away from you, you love seeing that from your teammates so you get caught out too much.
"We're playing as a team, and that's what's getting us these wins."
Armfield is nothing if not a team man. He is also brutally honest in his self-assessments.
The 26-year-old has been "pretty happy" with four of his games, but was "very disappointed" with his performance in the round-two loss to Collingwood when he was soundly beaten by Magpie youngster Jamie Elliott, who bagged five goals.
"I played a shocking game that day," he said. "I let Elliott off the leash a bit, and I was partly to blame for the game he played. It's one game I want to put behind me.
"Since then I've had a big chat with Mick and he just told me, 'focus on your strengths and do them well.' That's all I've tried to do."
Tagging Dangerfield is one of the game's most daunting jobs, but Armfield has tamed the Crows' powerhouse twice in just seven weeks.
When they met in a NAB Cup game at AAMI Stadium, the tough Blue even ran down his pacy prey twice from behind and kicked two superb goals himself.
At the time, Armfield told AFL.com.au he didn’t read much into NAB Cup form, suggesting Dangerfield might have been experimenting.
This time the star Crow was forced to try different tactics to break Armfield's grip. At various stages he went to a wing, positioned himself behind the ball, and was even third-man-up in some ruck duels, which Armfield admits "threw me off a bit".
Dangerfield had started the season slowly but was back in form after a best-afield, four-goal effort against the Western Bulldogs.
Armfield once again accepted that Dangerfield would win the hard ball, so he focused mainly on stopping him from exploding on his trademark, bouncing runs towards goal.
"A turnover cost me because he got it and ran 30 or 40 metres. That's exactly the thing I wanted to stop. Thankfully it didn’t keep happening," he said.
Armfield was disappointed that Dangerfield got away from him early, having eight kicks in the first term. But he was pleased to "reel him in a bit" thereafter, restricting him to just 12 touches in the last three quarters.
"To keep him goalless was great, but that's a big thanks to Zach Tuohy, who looked after him when he went forward," he said.
This Sunday at the MCG, Carlton will face the battling Melbourne – the Blues' first lowly opponent this season, and one lacking star quality – but Armfield insists there will be no relaxing.
"Every game's tough, and every side has quality players who you want to stop, so we'll put just as much time into them as we would any other opponent," he said.
Ben Collins is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_BenCollins