Each AFL season throws up its new bits of jargon. ''Patchy football'' is rapidly becoming the phrase of the moment. But unlike some popular terminology you hear, this one actually has plenty of substance to it.
Look at the AFL ladder and you would expect the top teams to be those which had spent the vast bulk of game time in front. And vice versa.
That was certainly the case in 2012 when, at this stage of the season, five of the top six teams were those which had led their games the longest.
But this season is throwing the measurement askew, underlining the coaches' view that it's getting a lot harder to stay on top for four quarters, let alone from week to week.
The two most obvious examples are North Melbourne and Geelong. The Kangaroos have so far spent 68 per cent of game time in front, second only to Hawthorn, which stands well clear on top with 82 per cent.
But the difference couldn't be more stark, the Hawks riding high on top of the ladder at 8-1, while North is 13th (3-6). As we saw so dramatically last Sunday against Adelaide, when North loses control of the play, it also loses complete control of the scoreboard. Not surprisingly, the Roos rank a lowly 13th for points conceded thus far.
Geelong, meanwhile, would be the source of some envy at Arden Street. The Cats are ranked just ninth for minutes in front, at 57 per cent. They also rank only ninth for quarters won, 18 from a possible 36.
Yet Geelong's bottom line is a win-loss record of 8-1 and second on the ladder, behind Hawthorn on percentage only.
Like North Melbourne, Richmond is also paying a high price for its lapses in games. The Tigers have won one more quarter of football than Geelong this season, and having led for 64 per cent of game time, are behind only the Hawks and Roos for percentage of time spent in front.
Yet they remain 10th on the ladder. Against Collingwood, Richmond won two quarters and narrowly lost another. But in the other, game-killing, 30 minutes, it conceded eight goals while scoring just two.
Against Geelong, it trailed by five points at half-time before being outscored by 11 goals to five in the second half.
Even the model of consistency that is Sydney has been prone to patchiness this season, managing to blow a 27-point lead against Fremantle a fortnight ago to barely escape with a draw, a point not lost on Sydney assistant coach John Blakey, speaking on SEN before the Swans played Collingwood last Friday night.
''We've been playing good football, but just haven't put four quarters together,'' Blakey said.
''It's been similar for Collingwood, and you've even heard Chris Scott talking about it with Geelong. Although they've won their games, even they haven't been consistent within quarters.
''I think the game has changed a little bit again in the way the ball is moved. I guess the new rules, the ‘in the backs’ and the ‘[too] highs’ in a way keep the ball flowing. It seems that teams have opportunities and windows to score now, and you can see when they do that, they can score really quickly, so we’re adapting all the time, and hopefully we’ll get back to our best soon.”
Sydney is actually better placed now (6-2 plus a draw) than at this stage last season (6-3), yet had won more quarters last season despite leading for less time in games.
The top team after nine rounds last year, West Coast, had won 27 quarters to 2013 leader Hawthorn's 24, despite only having led for 72 per cent of game time, compared with the Hawks' 82.
And at this stage in 2012, three sides had led games for more than 70 per cent of game time. Now, there's just one.
Nothing says patchy footy more effectively than these sorts of numbers. And that in this AFL season, if you don't take your more limited opportunities, you're likely to end up regretting it a lot more too.