CARLTON talked the talk this summer.
"We want the expectation … we are not just here to make up the numbers," the club's co-captain, Patrick Cripps, told AFL.com.au on the eve of the season.
After seven long years without finals football and nine seasons without a top-eight finish, this was supposed to be the time for the club to finally take the next step. But the time for talk is over.
Instead, what the Blues have delivered thus far has fallen well short of the lofty expectations their skipper had called for. Defeats to Richmond and Collingwood have condemned the club to a ninth straight 0-2 start, instantly leaving it with yet another uphill mountain to climb.
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The margins of defeat – 25 points against the Tigers and 21 points to the Magpies – and the patches of competitiveness within both games have perhaps masked bigger underlying issues.
Internally, there was a feeling that the deficit in a round one loss to Richmond had been flattering. Carlton conceded 75 inside-50s against the Tigers, the third-most on record in club history, only for the reigning premiers to convert just 15 of them into goals.
Staggeringly, only in a 78-point defeat to Greater Western Sydney under Mick Malthouse in 2015 and in a 116-point loss to West Coast under Denis Pagan in 2003 have the Blues conceded more inside-50s in a single match.
Carlton coach David Teague put that down to getting smashed in centre clearance and conceding an alarming number of forward-half turnovers. Indeed, conceding from turnover again proved to be an issue the following week against Collingwood.
Champion Data notes that the Blues have so far shipped 74 points per game from turnover this season, significantly more than any other side in the competition. In fact, Carlton has given up more scores from turnover than six clubs have conceded altogether so far this year.
Against the Magpies, Teague's side tightened up on its opposition entries. But while only 48 inside-50s were conceded, the Blues still leaked 26 scoring shots. It was the result of simply non-existent pressure on Collingwood's ball carriers as they went forward, another concern plaguing the team.
According to Champion Data, Carlton is dead-last in the League for pressure factor (1.61) so far this season. It's a damning statistic, one that is compounded by the fact it also ranks second-last for tackle efficiency (54.9 percent) and last overall for tackle differential (-15.0) within the entire competition.
In essence, that means the Blues are rarely applying pressure. And it means that on the few occasions when they are applying pressure, that pressure can be described as ineffective at best.
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That issue could be amplified by the sudden and unexpected loss of Zac Fisher and Jack Martin to ankle and knee injuries respectively, with the lively forward pair among the team's best pressure players. Both are expected to miss up to six weeks amid a crucial period for the club.
Their absence is another reason why the club's selection committee has recalled veteran Eddie Betts for this Sunday's pivotal clash with Fremantle. Last year, the 34-year-old ranked just outside the League's top-10 for tackles inside-50, with the Blues desperate to find more avenues to create pressure.
Carlton and Teague have long said they want to be described as a "120-minute team", but it is yet to get anywhere close to that this season. If anything, it has been the lapses and the vicious momentum swings in certain periods that is continually letting the side down.
Most worryingly, that is a trend that has plagued the Blues since Teague first took the reins of the club as interim coach midway through the 2019 season.
Carlton went from six points in front early in the first quarter of Thursday night's clash with Collingwood, to 30 points behind early in the second term. That 36-point turnaround in the opposition's favour was the 20th swing of 30 or more points suffered by the Blues in 30 games under Teague's control.
For context, Collingwood has suffered a 30-point swing just five times in its last 21 games.
So, is it a mentality issue? An effort issue? An execution issue?
"We need to have a bit more of a ruthless mentality around our defence," Teague said after Thursday night's defeat to Collingwood.
"I know the effort is there, I wouldn't question our effort. It was probably more of our mindset and where we went to in certain moments that allowed them easy looks."
The season is by no means over for Carlton after just two games and two losses. Despite the grim statistics concerning sides that go 0-2, a winless start isn't the death knell on a campaign that it once was.
Four teams have played finals after 0-2 starts in the last four years. Whether the Blues can make it five, though, will be defined by whether they can arrest the concerning trends that are haunting them defensively.
Sunday's upcoming clash against Fremantle will be telling.