AFL: Why Carlton's 'green shoots' aren't sprouting

After three 'honourable' losses to start 2019, many would expect some big scalps to be just around the corner for Carlton. But some damning stats suggest the Blues may actually be going backwards.

It's been three years of patient rebuilding under Brendon Bolton, and many expected Carlton's much-discussed 'green shoots' to start sprouting leaves in 2019.

They may still do, with three competitive efforts to start the season showing the Blues are capable of mixing it with some of the league's stronger teams, at least for large chunks of games.

However, some damning stats from the first three rounds suggest Carlton are still way off the mark in a number of areas.

According to Champion Data, it's not just one area of the Blues' play that is the cause of their winless start to the year. And while their three defeats -- to Richmond, Port Adelaide and Sydney -- may be deemed honourable by some fans and some in the media, the stats don't make for great reading.

Remarkably, the 2019 Blues are worse off in a number of KPIs compared to how they fared last year when they won just two games.

They are ranked last in the league for kicking efficiency percentage differential at -5.9 percent (up from -5.0 percent in 2018), meaning their opponents' kicking efficiency is almost 6 percent better than that of the Blues. They have an overall disposal differential of -52.0 in 2019 compared to -31.4 in 2018 and they're also ranked 17th for inside 50 differential at -9.3 per game.

Despite not getting as much footy as their opponents, they're ranked 16th in tackle differential (-9.7 per game).

Carlton are also struggling to keep the footy in their forward half. In 2017, the Blues were -5:02 minutes for time in forward half over the course of an average game. In 2018, they were -8.49 minutes, while through three rounds in 2019, Brendon Bolton's men are -9:03 minutes.

The stats also show the Blues are struggling to convert their chances when the ball does get sent forward - something which wouldn't surprise those who keep a close eye on the 'green shoots' at Princes Park.

In 2017, the Blues were scoring on 42.2 percent of their inside 50s (ranked 16th). In 2018's wooden spoon year, that figure dropped to 39.5 percent (ranked 17th), while so far this season, Carlton sit at 39 percent (ranked last).

And as simple as it sounds, the key to winning a football game is being in front at the final whistle, but being in front is tough enough. So far in 2019, the Blues have led for just 15 percent of overall game time - the lowest percentage in the AFL.

The alarming thing for Carlton is that these are trends that have emerged over years, and are not one-off misnomers.

But the counterpoint to this might be that the club has now turned over its list to Brendon Bolton's satisfaction, and as such, the sides named on gamedays are more inexperienced than ever, meaning the hunt for success will continue to be a 'slow burn'.

During last weekend's loss to the Swans, the Blues at times fielded a centre bounce crew of Zac Fisher (37 games), Will Setterfield (five) and Paddy Dow (23) or similar while Patrick Cripps was off the ground. This was more than once in direct opposition to Josh Kennedy (230 games), Luke Parker (176), and Zak Jones (76).

Similarly, Carlton's top five players on Champion Data's 2019 AFL Player Ratings list are Patrick Cripps (24 years of age), Sam Petrevski-Seton (21), Jacob Weitering (21), Zac Fisher (20) and Lachie Plowman (24). Last year, this group was a lot older, with Cripps, Kade Simpson (34), Ed Curnow (29), Charlie Curnow (22) Liam Jones (28) and Dale Thomas (31) rounding out the top six.

As advertised, the Blues went to the draft and secured the best young talent which would be the foundation of the club's expected rise up the ladder.

It might not be a matter of Carlton having forgotten how to win -- as some in the media have suggested -- rather, this young and inexperienced side just hasn't yet learned how to win.

The blueprint for a successful transition from cellar dwellers to a winning team is right in front of the Blues. The 2019 Lions are currently 3-0 and proving that patience is critical in developing a young list.

And while it might be a slow burn, wins -- and just as importantly, some improved KPIs -- must come soon, for the fans' sake, the players' sake, and for Brendon Bolton's sanity.