FROM the moment Eric Hipwood ruptured his ACL in the opening quarter of Brisbane's round 17 loss to St Kilda, the Lions’ season has been on the slide.

It was only 12 months ago many questioned whether a forward line led by Hipwood could challenge for a premiership, and now the same questions are being asked of their credentials without the rangy forward.

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Funny how quickly the world turns.

Hipwood's absence in the past month is only one small reason for Brisbane's tumble out of the top four with losses to St Kilda, Richmond and Hawthorn.

Dayne Zorko leads the disappointed Lions off the Gabba after their round 17, 2021 loss. Picture: AFL Photos

The only win in that stretch came against a Gold Coast outfit it spotted a 27-point half-time lead to, before over-running at the Gabba.

Following Sunday's loss, coach Chris Fagan said the Hawks had "more hunger when the game was there to be won".

It's been a theme of the past month and the main reason the Lions have lost their bite.

Statistics from Champion Data show they have dropped away markedly in a number of areas they usually excel.

Over the first 16 rounds Brisbane was ranked fifth in the competition for Pressure Factor (1.82), which has plummeted to 1.69, ranking them 16th in the League in the past month.

Brisbane's entire game is built on pressure.

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Collectively it is not blessed with great leg speed, although Zac Bailey, Dayne Zorko, Charlie Cameron and James Madden give them zip on every line, so they're happy to move the ball contest to contest and either win possession or harass opponents into mistakes they can punish.

An example of the drop off in pressure is the ability to generate turnovers in the forward half of the ground.

Ranked No.1 through 16 rounds in that statistic, the Lions have forced four less forward-half turnovers a game (ranked eighth during the past four rounds).

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It has led to a negative inside 50 differential and also been half the reason for its score from turnovers differential plummeting from third to 15th.

In simple terms, Brisbane used to outscore opponents by 12 points from turnovers, and now is being outscored by 17 points.

It is affecting 10 less tackles a game than its opposition.

Dayne Zorko is dragged to the ground by two Hawthorn opponents in round 20, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

It is conceding a whopping 32 more uncontested possessions a game to opponents. Again, work rate.

There is nothing wrong with the Lions' style of game, the same style that hammered premiership favourites Geelong just six weeks ago. It's the execution.

Some of their higher profile names have been below their best. Brownlow medallist Lachie Neale, who will miss Sunday's game through illness, has battled all sorts of injuries this year, from back to ankle to shoulder and even against Hawthorn he had to leave the field with a huge gash on his head. 

Hipwood's absence has left Brisbane short of its most reliable tall forward in the air.

He was often the player that would crash packs on kicks down the line, and could also keep his defender accountable, leaving Joe Daniher and Dan McStay more room to roam.

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Brisbane was the best team in the competition at retaining the ball inside 50 once it went in there. The past four weeks it's ranked just 13th.

Hipwood's injury adds to a small, but crucial, list of players out at the moment.

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Cam Rayner (knee) was being groomed as the explosive midfielder that could push forward and kick goals the Lions have craved, while under-rated Darcy Gardiner (shoulder) and Marcus Adams (foot) – in the midst of the best football of his career – have left huge defensive holes.

Cam Rayner leaves the ground with a knee injury during the 2021 AAMI Community series. Picture: Getty Images

These are not problems Brisbane has faced too often in its charge to the top of the ladder in recent years.

Adams missed all of last season, and Harris Andrews sitting out three matches on the eve of the finals with a hamstring injury seemed like a catastrophe, partly because of his influence, but mainly because Brisbane's team had been so settled for so long.

These are not insurmountable problems, but the clock is ticking. With games against Fremantle, Collingwood and West Coast remaining, the Lions need to find their hunger again.

It's simple according to Fagan.

"Our last month we've been a little bit hot and cold with our energy and pressure, so that's something we have to rediscover in the next few weeks.

"It's not the end of the world."

Lions in a slump

 

Rd 1-16 Avg.

Rank

Rd 17-20 Avg.

Rank

Points Against

69.1

#3

91.0

#15

Scores from Turnover Diff.

+11.5

#3

-16.8

#15

Goal per Inside 50 Agst.

19.8%

#3

25.1%

#16

Contested Possession Diff.

+4.7

#5

+5.5

#6

Uncontested Poss. Diff.

-5.0

#10

-32.0

#16

Inside 50 Diff.

+7.1

#2

-1.5

#11

Tackle Diff.

-0.7

#11

-10.2

#17

Pressure Factor

1.82

#5

1.69

#16

Forward Half Intercepts

26.3

#1

22.8

#8

Kick Inside 50 retention rate

51.8%

#1

43.8%

#13