IN 2019, West Coast was a poor contested-ball team that got away with winning games based on exceptional efficiency by foot combined with star-studded bookends.

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However, in the past fortnight, the Eagles' contested numbers have plummeted to a competition low and the stars that previously papered over the cracks have gone missing.

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While many would point to the Eagles' difficulty in adapting to life in the south-east Queensland hub, coach Adam Simpson looked on-field to explain the back-to-back losses this week. 

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"I think we've struggled to deal with the conditions, we've struggled in the contest and we haven't played four quarters," Simpson told SEN radio. 

West Coast coach Adam Simpson addresses his players against Brisbane. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

Bullied by Gold Coast in round two – a team almost three years younger on average – the Eagles then butchered the ball against Brisbane to fall to 1-2.

And this week, attempting to get their season back on track, the Eagles tackle the No.1 contested ball side in the AFL – Port Adelaide.

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While it's not all doom and gloom for a side that has proven it doesn't need big contested-ball numbers to win, figures produced by Champion Data show it has become a worsening trend that started in the run to September last year. 

Richmond, which the Eagles meet next week, ranked 16th for contested-ball differential on their way to the premiership last year, while the Eagles ranked seventh in their flag year of 2018. 

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However, given the Eagles' efficiency in ball use and converting their inside 50s has broken down and their contested numbers have continued to decline, the losses to the Suns and Lions should come as no surprise. 

The stats behind the Eagles' slump

 

 R1-21 2019

 Rank

 Last 7 Games

 Rank

Kicking Efficiency

 68.2%

 1

 65.2%

 6

Cont Poss Diff.

 -8.3

 14

 -14.0

 17

Groundball Diff.

 -11.7

 18

 -20.0

 18

Clearances Diff.

 +2.2

 6

 +2.0

 8

Inside 50 Diff.

 -1.1

 13

 -6.0

 14

Goals Per Inside 50

 25.9%

 1

 22.2%

 9

Goals Per Inside 50 Agst

 20.5%

 3

 22.4%

 8

  

If the Power quartet of Travis Boak, Tom Rockliff, Ollie Wines and Connor Rozee continue winning ball on the inside and their teammates can limit the influence of the Eagles' forwards, Adam Simpson's men will be in for a long afternoon on Saturday.

The one positive for the Eagles? They escape the slippery Queensland conditions at night and get Port Adelaide in their preferred afternoon slot that should assist their ball use.

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Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Jamie Cripps – the Eagles' three most productive forwards in 2019 – have all produced well below their best in the past fortnight, compared to their two-year AFL Player Ratings average.

In that time, that group has combined for just four goals.

 At the other end, Tom Barrass and Shannon Hurn have also dropped, while four of Jeremy McGovern's five worst games since the start of 2019 have come in his last six. 

And the four-time All-Australian enters the clash against Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall nursing an ankle complaint he suffered in a scratch match last week while serving a suspension for a brain fade against the Suns.

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Darling, Cripps, Hurn and McGovern were ranked as four of the seven elite players at the Eagles last year by Champion Data. Kennedy and Barrass were both 'above average'.

West Coast was rated the best kicking side in the AFL during the first 20 games last year but the Eagles went at just 54 per cent by foot last week. It was their worst performance in that department since round two, 2016. 

Eagle Andrew Gaff gets a kick away against the Lions. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

And only one of their midfielders, Dom Sheed, has a positive kick rating in 2020. A player's kick rating compares how often they hit targets with the difficulty of the kicks they have attempted.

Tim Kelly, regarded as one of the smoothest movers in the game, has suffered the most startling decline in this stat. Kelly had a kick rating of -4 per cent in 2019 at Geelong but has plunged to -16 per cent in 2020. Five of his 16 disposals against the Lions in round three were direct clangers. 

West Coast's 2020 midfield kick ratings

 

 

Dom Sheed

+4%

Andrew Gaff

-1%

Jarrod Brander

-3%

Elliot Yeo

-5%

Luke Shuey

-5%

Jack Redden

-9%

Nic Naitanui

-14%

Tim Kelly

-16%

 

With Boak and co. awaiting this week, the Eagles will then host the Tigers and Dustin Martin in a 'home' match on Thursday night at Metricon Stadium without the ability to call on primary tagger Mark Hutchings.

While Hutchings' role varied throughout 2019, Simpson has dearly missed the luxury of having the man who shut Collingwood's Steele Sidebottom out of the 2018 decider.

Second-gamer Matt Rowell dominated the Eagles in round two, while Lion Lachie Neale single-handedly changed last week's game with a third-quarter blitz.

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Nat Fyfe, Patrick Dangerfield and Sidebottom (plus Pies captain Scott Pendlebury) are coming for the Eagles in the next month, while Hutchings will still be sidelined with a knee setback. 

As the current Eagles midfield struggles to adapt to their new environment, it will be instructive to see which player turns to a defensive role when an opposition superstar catches fire. 

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In the meantime, the Eagles will need to rely on precise ball movement and a lift from key players to knock off the Power and then hope the conditions are more favourable against the Tigers. 

Last year's round 22 loss to Richmond, one that began their run current 2-5 run, will be prominent in West Coast memories as a game that was played in two starkly contrasting halves at the MCG. 

The Eagles dominated the first half in dry conditions before the rain set in and the Tigers toppled them in the final term

Simpson and his men will be hoping for more of the former than the latter in the next fortnight to kickstart a season that was meant to have them contending for the top four.