Blame Bevo? Perhaps these Dogs just aren't as good as we thought

Assessing the Western Bulldogs has never been that simple right throughout Luke Beveridge's nine seasons as coach. And even after one of, if not the most embarrassing defeats of his 205 games in charge on Sunday, that hasn't necessarily changed.

For all the humiliation of that loss to West Coast, one of the worst-performed teams of the modern era, with finals hopes squarely on the line; for all the white-hot anger of Bulldog fans after the game, and for all their calls for Beveridge's sacking, all is not yet quite lost.

As tough a task as will be beating Geelong on its home turf, for once it will be a Geelong without anything September-related for which to play. Win an admittedly unlikely victory, then see Carlton beat the Giants the following afternoon, and the Bulldogs will still be playing finals.

Would that appease the Bulldog faithful? Probably not. But then the Bulldogs under Beveridge have been a team specializing in the unlikely surge.

Expectations among the fan base weren't high heading into the finals of 2016 and 2021, the Dogs having finished the home-and-away season seventh and sixth respectively. Yet they were campaigns which ended in a premiership and another Grand Final appearance.

And even seven years on, that famous flag, and to a lesser extent that Grand Final two years ago they led by three goals midway through the third term, continue to muddy the waters about both club and coach.

Beveridge's effort in leading those 2016 Bulldogs to the flag is undoubtedly one of the greatest single-season coaching performances in history. But is he still a great coach of the Bulldogs? Is this a team drastically underperformed? Or do Bulldogs fans, and a fair chunk of the football world (me included) perhaps overestimate their potential?

Given I tipped the Dogs to win this year's premiership (my other Grand Finalist was Richmond, by the way, so yes, that is a spectacular fail), I clearly fall into the "drastically underperformed" camp. Yet, like others, I'm also beginning to wonder if I've had the rose-coloured glasses on too often when it comes to this team.

Tipping them for the flag was the stuff of hunches, really, given they'd won only 12 of 23 games last year and finished eighth. And were the arrival of a key defender in Liam Jones and a key forward/ruckman in Rory Lobb really going to lift them that many rungs up the ladder?

Similarly, I think I (and more importantly, the Bulldogs themselves) may have drastically underestimated the impact the loss of Josh Dunkley and Lachie Hunter would have on a midfield group whose depth we've prattled on about for years, but whom have at times this season been found wanting, certainly defensively.

The Bulldogs were ostensibly travelling pretty well at 7-3 after Round 10. But only three of those wins were against current top eight teams. And since then? The Dogs have gone a miserable 4-8, and not a single one of those victories has been against an opponent from the upper echelon.

Pre-season, all the talk was about the potential of the Dogs' tall forward set-up. In reality, it's been a non-event.

While Aaron Naughton and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan, plus Cody Weightman at their feet, have all had their moments, as a group they've rarely clicked as one, the Dogs only 10th for points scored after ranking fifth last year and second in 2021. That's despite high rankings for inside 50s and time in forward half. In other words, text book inefficiency.

It's actually been their defence, along with solid enough midfield numbers, which has held things together, but now the walls are beginning to crumble, meaning the Dogs can't score enough and are getting score against too easily, West Coast's 14.8 (92) the Eagles' second-highest score of the season, their average prior to Sunday a miserable 60 points per game.

Their ball movement is slow and stodgy, the Dogs ranking a lowly 16th prior to Sunday for defensive to offensive 50 transition, a statistic in which every single one of the last 10 premiership sides has ranked at least top six. It's not the profile of an aspiring top team.

And the coach? It's a pretty interesting juncture for Beveridge, who was re-signed only late last year for another two seasons. He was asked directly after Sunday's loss about his future despite that tenure. You suspect not for the last time, either.

Many hardcore Bulldog fans certainly seem to have fallen out of love even with the man who gave the club just its second premiership in 2016. And the Beveridge of 2023 certainly seems a more prickly and defensive character than the one of those glorious flag-winning days of seven years ago.

Sunday's loss to West Coast might well have been the lowest point for both the Bulldogs and their coach of the past decade. That could potentially be surpassed by another bad loss at the Cattery on Saturday night, and a season without finals for the first time since 2018.

But then what happens if the Bulldogs ... well, do another Bulldogs, make the eight and launch another unlikely finals run? You can never be quite sure with this mob. Maybe their coach can't, either.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY