Cripps says Blues are not in a rut ahead of Magpie test
Patrick Cripps denies Carlton are in a rut, with the Blues captain saying they are improving and there is a long way to go this AFL season.
After a strong start to the season, the Blues have lost four of their past five games and face a massive test this Sunday when they play old rivals Collingwood at the MCG.
But Carlton showed signs of life in the second half of Saturday night's loss to the Western Bulldogs, and Cripps said his teammates must stay focused.
"I wouldn't say we're in a rut,'' he said.
"We've been beaten by some good sides and we haven't quite clicked, but I feel like every week we're growing.
"The game is just telling us we're not quite there ... but I feel like we're close.
"That's what I'm going to keep preaching to the boys - we have to get better, we have to stay upbeat."
Cripps said execution was a major issue in the loss to the Bulldogs, noting the Blues had 11 more inside-50s in the first half, but managed just one goal.
"The opportunities were there ... it's probably been the story of our year," he said.
"I'm still very bullish - I know the potential in this group. Things will turn."
Cripps noted that their record of four wins, four losses and a draw has them only half a game outside the top eight.
The next month will be telling - top side Collingwood, then Sydney away, arch-rivals Essendon and likely top-four finishers Melbourne.
"We're right near the eight, we have some really tough opponents coming up, but as competitors you want the best sides," Cripps said.
"If we're going to compete at the end of the year, these are the games you want to play in.
"We're definitely on the way up."
The Magpies beat Carlton by four points and just one point in their two clashes last season, with the round-23 match costing the Blues a finals berth.
It adds extra spice to the league's most celebrated rivalry.
"The group has moved on from that, but I would say when you play big teams and big rivals, you always love playing in those games," Cripps said.
"It will be a fierce contest, it will be on, and we're excited by that."
After winning the Brownlow Medal last year, Cripps by his own admission has not been quite in his best form.
"It's been OK; the contest stuff has been there," he said.
"It's been a bit of a story of the team - a bit of execution."
Cripps kicked 20 goals last year and wanted to improve on that, but so far this season he has managed just 1.8.
"That's something I want to keep growing ... when you have the opportunities, you want to make them count," he said.
"I still have work to do on that."
Josh Dunkley beat Cripps a fortnight ago when the Blues lost to Brisbane, and the Carlton star says it's a matter of fighting through the greater on-field attention he now inevitably receives.
"He (Dunkley) played a really good game, and as a competitor you always hate losing a battle," Cripps said.
"You go to work on it. You're never going to be perfect all the time."