It’s a question much of the football world is asking as the side’s final hopes hang by a thread heading into Friday night’s virtual elimination final against St Kilda, with last year’s grand finalists at times looking at a shadow of their former selves on the field.
So, where have things gone wrong and how do they fix it?
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This year represents another where the Dogs have spluttered following an impressive season prior.
In 2017, they missed the finals after winning the 2016 premiership and this year, after being 2021 grand finalists, they’re in genuine danger of missing the finals again.
That inconsistency would be frustrating many supporters, let alone the club’s games record holder Brad Johnson.
“The fall-off in 2017, that was more comfortable in terms of where it sat,” he told Foxfooty.com.au.
“It’s just the build up of making a grand finale and you think that’s the element with the maturity now to make that next step and be a top four team in the competition, but it just goes to show how tough this competition is.”
The side hasn’t been able to secure a top four spot since Johnson’s final playing year at the club in 2010 – a baffling stat given its since featured in two grand finals.
“I think those expectations (top four) would’ve been there and should’ve been there (at the start of the year),” Johnson said.
“That’s been the biggest thing, I think the only element that has missed in this whole period of success is being able to be a regular top four team that can then go on the road, which is a little bit easier than coming from seventh or eighth on the ladder to try and win it.”
After the side’s 53-point loss to the Swans, Beveridge’s comments in his post-match press conference piqued the interest of former Hawthorn star Ben Dixon.
“We need to challenge ourselves,” Beveridge said.
“You lose personnel throughout the course, so you need to work out what your best template is.
“The now is absolutely important for us, but the future is critical to make sure we lay some foundations to make sure we’re setting ourselves up for what happens in the future.”
Beveridge would vehemently deny those comments were a concession of sorts about the season, but Dixon, speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack, said: “I thought it was ‘the white flag is up, it’s done.’”
Leigh Montagna added: “I did find them interesting comments … It says to me they’re going to blood some more young talent.
“They’re still clearly going to try and win and play finals, but with more of an eye to the future.”
DEFENDING THE DEFENSE
Luke Beveridge has this year bristled whenever it’s suggested the Dogs’ defense is not up to scratch when pressured.
Questioned on his side’s defense in the leadup to the weekend’s loss to Sydney, Beveridge said the analysis of the back half woes “depends on whether you take in all the data and information”.
Beveridge pointed to kicking the ball out on the full multiple times against Brisbane, inaccuracy in front of goals and poor positioning off the ball as reasons for the defensive malaise.
Whichever way you slice it, however, the numbers from round 12 onwards (during which they’ve faced Geelong, GWS, Hawthorn, Brisbane and Sydney) have to be alarming.
They’re ranked 16th for both points against and opposition points from turnovers, 17th in both opposition points from defensive half and opposition defensive 50 transition to attacking 50 and they’re the worst side in the competition when it comes to opposition scores per inside 50 .
Those have to be numbers of considerable concern, as are the numbers regarding defensive one-on-one contests; they win them 28 per cent of the time this season (15th in the competition) and lose them 34 per cent of the time (17th).
Taylor Duryea, Hayden Crozier and Caleb Daniel were missing from the side’s back six during the loss to Sydney last week, but other than that there aren’t many solutions from a personnel standpoint.
Beveridge’s decision to throw Mitch Hannan and Adam Treloar into defense was another that raised eyebrows last week.
“You put Mitch Hannan down there (in defense) and you say ‘OK he’s never played down back before’ and he put him on Isaac Heeney, who’s one of those form forwards in the competition. You put (Adam) Treloar off half-back to get run… you’re just plugging holes,” Dixon said on First Crack.
“I think he’s come to the realization that this year’s done – coming off a Granny, which is pretty devastating for Bulldogs supporters.
Dual All-Australian Leigh Montagna added: “It was almost like he was experimenting in a must-win game with Mitch Hannan and Adam Treloar in the backline. He’s trialled something because he’s been that frustrated with how they’re going.”
MEN IN THE MIDDLE
The side’s struggles aren’t purely in defense – in fact, perhaps the issues further afield are contributing to them.
In the middle is where the side was often lauded heading into season 2022, with a star-studded mix led by Tom Liberatore and Marcus Bontempelli.
Luke Beveridge in his aforementioned response last week to questions about the side’s defence, offered a hint as to where things are going wrong.
“If you go and look at the first part of the game (against Brisbane), we had 11 forward half turnovers. No one’s talking about that, that is a world record,” he said.
“Do you know how many scores we got from it? One point. That’s the disappointing thing.
“Our connection piece, our defense was sensational in the first quarter, then what happened after that was we let them plot their way through us a little bit and we need to improve.
“We’ve shown at different stages of the year when we’re all in sync we can defend extremely well as a team.”
Looking into the turnover game and Beveridge’s comments are certainly understandable.
They rank 10th in the competition for points from turnovers, 12th for points from forward turnover differential, and ninth in both forward half intercepts and points from forward half intercepts.
For whatever reason, the “connection piece” Beveridge speaks of is just not working at the moment and it’s having a significant impact on the club’s results.
If the Dogs want a ready-made, key position player for next season, the draft is not the place to go.
With Sam Darcy and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan already in their ranks and developing, it’s the trade table the Dogs must turn to this off-season in a bid to bolster their immediate premiership prospects.
Despite being contracted to Fremantle until the end of 2023, Rory Lobb is seen by many within the industry as a near-certainty to leave the club, with the Dogs a likely destination.
Most clubs would certainly entertain the idea of adding Lobb to their list – that is, the 2022 version.
“I think Lobb has improved a lot at Freo, he’s a lot more consistent now in his approach to each week,” Johnson said.
“Instead of going to a game wondering what we’re going to get from Rory Lobb, you know what you’re going to get from Rory Lobb these days.
“I think it’s really important to get to that position in his career and I think he’s there.”
As to the role Lobb would play, Johnson said it would be one that allowed more freedom to Aaron Naughton and Tim English.
“I think he plays the role he plays now,” he said.
“Whichever club he lands at, or if he stays at Freo, he continues this role he’s playing now which is forward first and a second ruck and he can move around the ground.”
Lobb’s presence would help provide more ready-made relief for Aaron Naughton up forward and in turn help the side capitalize more from turnover.
From a pure needs perspective, however, Liam Jones looms as the joker in the pack should the league alter its vaccination mandate.
Jones’ capabilities on the field are known, but it’s hard to imagine a side he’d suit more than the Dogs, who it turns out he spent the majority of time at playing in the wrong position.
A return to the Dogs would be monumental for the side, which tried to bolster its key defensive stocks last off-season via the acquisition of Tim O’Brien, who was dropped last week and has not been the answer thus far.
“That type of player, a key defensive player at that level would be huge for any side, let alone for a team where it then allows Alex Keath to play his way, frees up Tim O’Brien to play a more realistic role for himself ,” Johnson said, noting “it’s the same up front” with Naughton.
Ultimately, the Dogs’ fortunes this season look shot, even though Johnson maintains the belief the side could still make a run at the finals and be a genuine threat should they make the eight, while Beveridge himself insisted last week the “alarm bells” weren ‘t ringing just yet.
Sitting one game and percentage out of the eight, but facing the third-hardest remaining draw according to Fox Footy’s The Run Home, playing finals from here will be difficult.
Games against three members of the top four – Melbourne, Geelong and Fremantle – will prove major tests following this Friday night’s clash with the Saints, and it’s likely they’ll need to win three of their next four to remain in the hunt.
Either way, there is a stack of work to be done to rectify the issues that are dragging the Dogs down.
Addressing those issues starts with the remainder of the season, but will extend well into the off-season.