AFL Debate Club: Michael Voss or the playing group? Who is more to blame for Carlton's horror six weeks?

Welcome to ESPN's AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!

This week, Rohan Connolly and Jake Michaels look at the disappointing Blues and debate whether the blame should fall more on coach Michael Voss or the playing group.

Michael Voss or the playing group? Who is more to blame for Carlton's horror six weeks?

Rohan Connolly: I spoke about the 'chicken or the egg?' discussion in another context recently, but this might well be the textbook definition of it. Does the coach make the players or the players make the coach? We've been arguing variations of that one since the days of Norm Smith!

I'm pretty firm in my belief in this case, however, is the playing group. In fact, if I can split hairs, I'd argue even the players aren't necessarily to blame. Because that implies they are giving something less than their best selves. And with Carlton, I'm not sure that's the case. I just don't think the Blues are good enough.

Yes, I know Carlton was 8-2 at this same stage last season. Interestingly, though, the Blues even then had the lowest percentage of any side in the top eight. Melbourne was 10-0 and on top of the ladder without having come anywhere near the standard it had set the previous season. And Geelong was still a fair way from the juggernaut it would become at just 5-4 and in sixth spot.

In the end, the Blues won just four of 11 games in 2022 against top eight opponents. And the one from six against the top eight this season speaks for itself.

There's a tendency to be seduced by the top-end talent, the names Charlie Curnow, Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh, Harry McKay, Jacob Weitering, Adam Saad and Sam Docherty. Unfortunately, teams consist of 22, and the Blues' 'bottom-enders' haven't ever been good enough or consistent enough relative to their rivals.

Take Collingwood, for example, which on Sunday beat Carlton comfortably with so-called 'lesser lights' such as John Noble, Beau McCreery, Ash Johnson and Oleg Markov all making important contributions.

Could Carlton play a more dynamic brand of football than it does under Voss? Theoretically, yes. But are the Blues capable of it? I'm not convinced. I think where Carlton stands is about where talent dictates it should.

Jake Michaels: Like Rohan, I've always been a firm believer that players -- not coaches -- are responsible for wins and losses, but Carlton's inability to take any sort of leap this year simply has to fall on Michael Voss and his coaching staff.

Of the four uber disappointing teams of 2023 -- Carlton, Sydney, Richmond and West Coast -- the Blues are the only one which cannot use injuries as an excuse for poor performance, meaning Voss has the crop to work with and is still failing. To Rohan's point, this side currently sits 11th with just the solitary win over a top eight team.

Carlton has clearly gone backwards, scoring five points fewer and conceding two points more per game, but it's so much more than that. The exciting, fast and furious game-style we were treated to early last year has vanished, leaving an uncertain, confused team which is severely lacking direction.

The game style under Voss is simply not conducive to winning games of football in this era. Voss has preached contested possession, clearances and raw disposals since being appointed Blues coach, metrics which the vast majority of the last 20 premiers have fared mid-table, at best, in. Instead, the areas which we know are key to success seem to be overlooked, including scores from turnover, ball use and post-clearance contested possession.

What we see far too often from the Blues is stagnant ball movement followed by a down-the-line bail out kick and a prayer that Harry McKay will clunk a contested mark. It's directionless football.

The other area of concern with this side is the fact so few Carlton midfielders are prepared to kick, with the instinct always being to handball. The Blues are the only team which has three of its top five ball winners handballing more than kicking. Some will say this is an indictment on the players themselves, but if Voss wanted this changed, it surely would have been.

Voss clearly isn't getting the best out of Carlton's top end talent, not to mention the other three quarters of the list. Will he still have his job in 12 months time? Given Carlton's propensity for hasty coach re-shuffling, I'd say, at best, it's a coin flip.