Three Areas for the Archers to Improve After Three Weeks

By Zach Carey

Jun 21, 2023

Archers Lacrosse Club has gotten off to a solid start to the 2023 PLL season. Two comfortable victories against the Cannons and Chrome to start the year had the club at the top of the standings before Saturday’s five goal loss to Chaos knocked them back a notch. 

Now, the three week break for the World Games provides an effective opportunity to evaluate the first three games of the season and look ahead to how each club can improve as the summer progresses. As such, here are three notable areas of improvement for the Archers after their 2-1 start to the season. 

Optimizing Mike Sisselberger’s success at the faceoff stripe 

Mike Sisselberger has been a resounding positive for the Archers through three weeks and has established himself as the answer to the club’s big question mark at faceoff. His 65.4% win rate at the faceoff stripe is second in the league only behind Trevor Baptiste as he’s proven capable of competing against guys like Connor Farrell and dominating versus weaker specialists. The Lehigh product has also largely answered questions about his ability to possess the ball after the initial win, only turning the ball over three times in three games and scoring three points in the process.

But, despite Sisselberger’s dominance, the Archers still lost by five to Chaos on Saturday. His 62.9% performance at the stripe and 8/10 wins in the fourth quarter weren’t enough for the club’s offense to keep pace with Chaos. 

Undoubtedly, the new 32-second shot clock after draws has lessened the importance of faceoffs in general and a significant contributing factor Saturday’s loss to Chaos was how the shorter clock limits what an offense can do after a faceoff win. Some of that is part of a league-wide drop in efficiency after faceoffs. Yet the degree to which the Archers struggled to score after Sisselberger’s wins against Chaos points to how it should be a point of focus for the club moving forward. 

This offense is absolutely capable of scoring in short-clock situations, it’s rather a matter of execution. Against the Cannons in the first game of their 2023 season, the Archers scored on nine of their 24 possessions after a faceoff win, good for an absurdly efficient 37.5% success rate on possessions that started with a 32 second shot clock. Versus Chrome, the club scored twice on 10 possessions after a win at the stripe, down to a lesser but still respectable 20% clip. Then, in Saturday’s loss to Chaos, the team scored just twice off of 17 Sisselberger wins, converting on a measly 11.8% of those possessions. 

Archers Head Coach Chris Bates said that he suspects that the performance against the Cannons “was an aberration,” but added that “I think we’re all adapting to it. If you’re not winning [faceoffs] you’re trying to at least shorten the clock. Everyone’s kind of catching on to how you’re going to adapt.” 

In the aggregate, the club’s 25.5% efficiency on 32-second possessions is respectable, but it’s a matter of establishing consistency in order to ensure that Sisselberger’s success at the stripe provides the team a tangible advantage. 

Sisselberger and his wings are absolutely part of accomplishing that. Generating shots off of faceoff wins is a huge advantage with the 32-second clock, and the numbers back that up. Sisselberger had a goal and an assist off of faceoff wins versus the Cannons and had a goal against Chrome while he only turned the ball over once in those two contests combined. 

Against Chaos, he had a pair of turnovers and no points while there were very few early clock opportunities. If the Archers can generate more shots off of faceoffs wins, even if they miss wide, that will drastically alter their 32-second possession efficiency by producing a solid look and, on a miss, stopping the clock to allow for substitutions. 

Beyond that, utilizing offensive sets that are meant to generate quick shots is necessary. The club’s “Jackie” offensive set (which we’ll have more on in the coming weeks) is one example of that where Ryan Ambler sets an on-ball pick for Tom Schreiber who feeds Matt Moore curling off a mumbo pick from Tre Leclaire. This produces almost immediate offense and is suited for short-clock situations.

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.

Again, further game experience and more time playing together should result in more effective communication and decision making when defending the two-man game. But how the Archers decide to guard those big-little actions on a weekly basis will be something worth watching once the PLL comes back in a few weeks’ time. 

The Archers are in an altogether good place for being three weeks into the summer. Had it not been for Pat Resch’s empty net two-point goal in the final minute of Saturday’s game against Chaos, the Archers would be in first place in the PLL right now. 

However the razor thin margins between all eight clubs in the league mean that every little element of the game matters and improving throughout the course of the regular season is critical for competition for a championship in September. If the Archers can successfully improve in each of these three areas come the playoffs, they’ve got as good a shot as any other team to hoist a trophy on September 24th.

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