RAPID ball movement, clever use of the corridor and an exciting batch of draftees powered Sydney to a stunning start to the season, but opponents have slowed the free-flowing football and now the Swans need to respond with a fresh way to play.
An exhilarating game style helped Sydney outgun 2020 preliminary finalist Brisbane and back-to-back premiers Richmond in the opening three rounds, and had it unbeaten and second on the ladder.
It also allowed the Swans to dominate inside 50 entries against their opponents (+23), marks inside 50 (+26) and, most importantly, goals scored (+19).
It was a game built on moving the ball quickly from defence, often with short kicks to teammates who found pockets of space to take uncontested marks. In the opening three rounds, the Swans averaged 106 effective short kicks and 97 uncontested marks.
But times have been tougher since then, as injuries hit hard and opposition teams found ways to slow down the Swans’ ball movement and limit their rebound from defence.
Sydney stumbled over the line against Essendon in round four, but has since lost a thriller to Greater Western Sydney at the SCG then put in a disappointing display in a 40-point loss to Gold Coast.
In those three matches, the inside 50 (+3) and marks inside 50 (-3) dominance dried up, and so did the goals (-6). It’s no coincidence that the average effective short kicks (78) and uncontested marks (71) have also plummeted.
SLIDING DOORS If the Swans' first four rounds were near perfect ...
The inevitable response was noticeable against the Bombers, with the centre square filled with red and black jumpers whenever the Swans had the ball in their back half.
Jordan Dawson said the team realised it faced a fresh challenge early in that match.
"Teams have done their homework on us now, after the first three or four games, and understand how we want to play. Essendon started it with the plan to clog the corridor and the 45m kicks,” he said.
"For us down back, it's just about trying to figure out new ways to run and get through that corridor, because you want to move it through there.
"But we've got other options that we know we can use. We've just got to keep playing the game as it unfolds, we're not set on one particular way of playing the ball."
Dawson has settled well into the Swans’ defence this season, after spending time up forward and on the wing in past years.
The 24-year-old’s penetrating and precise kicking is a key feature of his game, and he joins Jake Lloyd, Harry Cunningham and Braeden Campbell as smart ball users in the backline.
"I want to try and get the ball in my hands but defending is the key to my game. Whatever I do to provide the run and ball-use comes second off defending," Dawson said.
"It has been good to have multiple options down back to run out and provide the ball use, but now it gets a bit trickier with a few guys going out with injuries.
"We've just got to make sure that we keep trying to provide the run and defending, and whoever is in there we know will do the role."