Nobody has all the answers for 32-second offense right now, but that’s why this is an obvious area for improvement. If the Archers can establish consistent efficiency of upwards of 25% on possessions post faceoff win and Sisselberger can continue to win draws at a high rate then this offense becomes even scarier than it already is at full strength.
Crisper offense with additional emphasis on ball movement
Part of achieving the frightening potential that the club’s offense has will be playing cleaner than Saturday’s game against the Chaos when the Archers turned the ball over 20 times. That came after the club averaged 14 turnovers per game in the first two weeks of 2023 and a league low 14.6 per contest in 2022. “The turnovers killed us,” said Bates after the game. “Every time there was a little bit of momentum, we turned it over uncharacteristically. We dropped balls in transition. We were sloppy. And you can’t win a game being that sloppy.”
Beyond that sloppiness, the Archers are also averaging just 4.76 passes per possession relative to 6.08 passes per possession in 2022. Obviously part of that drop in passes per possession is a result of the 32-second shot clock after faceoffs and resets resulting in shorter possessions.
But the film backs up the notion that the Archers offense has been a bit more stagnant and reliant on individual heroics than the team-friendly, pass-heavy approach which has yielded such offensive success in the past. The departures of Will Manny and Marcus Holman in the offseason and Grant Ament’s absence for essentially the last two games have no doubt contributed to that.
Of course, there is value to having players who can win individual matchups and who deserve a volume of opportunities to do so, such as Connor Fields and Matt Moore.
Yet, especially with the shorter shot clock, moving the ball and forcing defenses to consistently rotate and move rather than merely worrying about individual matchups is critical. The offensive performance versus Chaos was additional evidence for how relying on winning one-on-one can be dangerous. Chaos’ decision to double pole the midfield and short Mac O’Keefe put a hamper on the Archers’ ability to get a step on the defense.
A lot of the struggles against Chaos come down to that squad boasting arguably the best defense in the league. There’s no easy schematic switch to flip or button to press that can overcome a defense dominating matchups. But Bates and his offense getting Ament back in the lineup and re-emphasizing the ball movement that has made them so effective should result in cleaner performances as the back half of the regular season approaches.
Guarding big-little actions better
As there has been a revamping of the Archers’ offensive personnel in the offseason, the defensive midfield’s shift away from the veteran presence of Dominique Alexander (retired) and Mark McNeill (cut) and towards the youth of 25-year old Latrell Harris and rookies Connor Maher and Piper Bond has come with some growing pains. Harris is a stud as an individual defender and both Maher and Bond show promise in a variety of areas. But defending the big-little picking games has been a struggle for the club’s defense early in the season.
Defending big-little two-man games is absolutely one of the most difficult tasks in lacrosse, particularly with the level of offensive talent in the PLL. Practically every offensive starter in the league has been guarded by a pole for their entire career before becoming a professional, so no matter who draws the short stick matchup, there will be an inherent mismatch at almost all times. That alone means that there will be goals scored on short stick defenders and that picking actions that involve SSDMs will generate open looks no matter how well the defense plays.
Still though, there is absolutely room for improvement with how the Archers have guarded the big-little. It’s still early in the summer and probably the most impactful solution will be the two rookies playing more and the defense as a whole communicating more.
Tactically speaking it will be interesting to track how the club and Defensive Coordinator Tony Resch decide to defend the two-man game this season. The Archers have been happy to switch shorties onto attackmen at times, notably against Jackson Morrill and Chrome. While Morrill scored five goals and had a stellar outing against the Archers, the defense’s decision to live with the matchups that came from the switches worked out as Chrome struggled to consistently generate good looks and only score seven goals.
Yet, in the game versus Chaos, Andy Towers’ club scored five of their 14 goals directly off a two-man big-little look. Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne in particular bullied the Archers’ short sticks and punished them both after switches and when merely hedging or shading to help.