Western Bulldogs not reaching heights of premiership season so far in 2017

THE most memorable premiership in football history was won with extraordinary coalface power and a manic forward press.

The Western Bulldogs dominated contested ball, clearances, inside 50m and time in forward half differential throughout last season and then went to another level in four incredible finals.

But three rounds into their premiership defence, the Dogs aren’t doing any of those things.

Luke Beveridge’s band of gritty stars have gone from bashing rivals in these areas to languishing in the negative after three matches.

Is an old dog learning new tricks? Is it cause for concern? Or is this simply a premiership side with less preparation time warming into the season?

Whatever the reason, the change is stark.

The Bulldogs ranked No.1 for the 2016 home-and-away season in contested possession differential (+14.4 per week) and No.2 for clearance differential (+5.7). So far this season, they rank 10th (-1.7) and 15th (-4.7) in those categories, respectively.

Inside 50m differential has gone from +8.9 per week in 2016 (ranked No.2) to -4 (ranked 12th) this season.

Time in forward half differential has plummeted from an average +7min2secs in the 2016 home-and-away season to -2min20secs in 2017.

Interestingly, there’s also changes in the way the Bulldogs are scoring, too. Last season 15.6 per cent of their score was launched from the defensive 50m — the sixth-lowest of any side.

This year 25.4 per cent of their score has been generated from the same area of the ground — the highest percentage of any side.

Yet the Bulldogs were poleaxed by Collingwood in contested footy, clearances, and inside 50s in Round 1. They have basically broken even in these areas in the last fortnight against Sydney and Fremantle.

DIFF’RENT DOGS: The premiers are playing a different game so far in 2017

(Source: Champion Data)

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s shock loss to the Dockers, Beveridge was asked for the reasons.

Was Liam Picken’s concussion a factor? Was complacency an issue?

Ross Lyon said his side beat the Dogs at their own game.

“I thought we tackled and pressured really well. The Bulldogs went to a premiership on pressuring and tackling and then exploding away,” Lyon said.

This isn’t a swipe at the Dogs, who are A) 2-1, and B) only three rounds of footy into the season.

But for a side who last year regularly beat up on rivals at stoppages and pinned them inside their defensive half better than any other side, it’s been a massive drop off.