Clarkson-Hodge
Essendon did three key things on Sunday to hold off the Hawks. Sure, the Hawks were missing several key players in Sam Mitchell, Josh Gibson and then they lost James Frawley during the game.

However, the Hawks bat deep, and Clarkson made solid choices to counter those losses, such as moving Ben McEvoy back and giving Cyril Rioli plenty of time in the middle.

Step one: Cut through on the counter attack

The Bombers never had a chance to kick 100 points. They had to be precise with their chances, and they were.

The Hawks are one of the better forward pressure teams, with the likes of Paul Puopolo and Rioli laying tackles and trying their best to keep it in their forward half.

The Bombers ran at around 79% disposal efficiency throughout the whole game.

Thirteen Bombers had over 80% disposal efficiency, whilst only six Hawks could cross the 80% barrier.

Even in the third quarter when the Hawks made their comeback, the Bombers maintained that high disposal efficiency.

Essendon’s kicking was excellent, with all players showing a high football IQ and rarely committing errors.

When the Bombers got the ball on the counter, it was the likes of Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker who led the rebounds (with seven and six each), and all midfielders ran and spread, using the corridor as their weapon of choice.

Having said that, players like James Gwilt and Adam Cooney would rush up the wings, providing another option on several occasions.

Even though they knew they weren’t going to get the ball, these outside runners knew that the Hawks’ defence would try to clog the corridor at some stage, so they continued running hard thanklessly.

The Hawks’ defence is best when they can isolate one on one contests and have enough time for Josh Gibson or Ben Stratton to come across for a spoil.

The Essendon forward line was erratic, with Joe Daniher and Jake Carlisle pushing far up the ground and letting Paul Chapman, Adam Cooney, Jake Melksham and Travis Colyer have 50 metres of space to run in to.

Verdict: Clubs need to be physical and ensure the Hawks don’t get repeat forward 50 entries, and once they get the rebound, cut through the corridor and have running players isolated in the forward 50.

Step two: Forward pressure

The Bombers’ highlight reel was lathered in tackles upon tackles. Patrick Ambrose’s bone cruncher on Brad Hill late in the game exemplified the Bombers ability to just apply physicality.

At the game, you could sense the Bombers were rising in the last three minutes, yet the tackling and pressure was there all game.

The reason why the likes of Leroy Jetta were replaced by Ambrose and Zach Merrett is not because they hit targets and they’ll rack up tackles.

Merrett ended up with seven tackles for the game, whilst Ambrose ended up with six and Chapman and Cooney had five each.

Verdict: The Bombers had 74 tackles to the Hawks 62, but the Bombers had 59 more disposals.

Step three: Stop the Hawks’ key ball users

The top four ball winners for the Hawks were Jordan Lewis, Luke Hodge, Grant Birchall and Matthew Suckling.

All four of them had 25 disposals or more, yet all of them had a disposal efficiency of 68% or lower.

Only two Hawks had a disposal efficiency of over 80% whilst having 20 or more touches (Shaun Burgoyne and Bradley Hill).

The Bombers by contrast, had seven players over 80% with 20 or more disposals.

The only person who really looked to threaten the Bombers throughout the game was Cyril Rioli.

The live wire had 77.8% disposal efficiency from 18 disposals, with a goal, five clearances and five inside 50s, but it wasn’t enough.

Verdict: The Bombers beat the Hawks at their own game, by playing keepings off and stopping several key players from dominating.

Step four: Make their forwards accountable
Between Hurley, Hooker, Martin Gleeson, Mark Baguley and Michael Hibberd, the defenders amassed 107 disposals.

Jack Gunston, James Sicily, Jarryd Roughead, Paul Puopolo and Luke Breust had just 72 disposals.

Roughead was kept to one goal and was rarely sighted until he shifted into the ruck in the last quarter. Breust ended up with two goals, but was quiet for most of the day.

Jack Gunston was the only constant for the Hawks. In fact, he was the only Hawthorn forward to grab a contested mark, with two for the day. His three goal, 20 disposal and 11 mark effort was excellent, but he was the lone soldier for much of the game.

Cale Hooker, on the other hand, was able to take four contested marks.

Even James Gwilt and the paper-thin Martin Gleeson constantly beat or at least made it a 50-50 contest each time the ball came into the Hawks forward 50.

Verdict: Hawthorn forwards rely on their forward pressure to dominate, but if they are run off their feet, they don’t have nearly as much influence.

Step five: Mismatch the Hawks defenders with speed
The Hawks have one of the best defences in the league, but they struggle when playing against sides which attack the game through the corridor and rely on a spread of goal kickers.

The Bombers would often play one out with either Joe Daniher or Jake Carlisle playing deep.

With the Bombers putting so many men back when the Hawks went forward, that allowed for Cooney, Chapman, Melksham and Colyer to run into space, which in turn left the Hawks with no one to float across and cut off leads.

Carlisle and Daniher ended up with seven marks inside 50 between them for five goals and two behinds.

Cooney and Chapman seem to be perfect for their roles at Essendon, even though they lack speed. Both are creative with ball in hand and can win one on one contests. Importantly, both laid five tackles each.

The Hawks are excellent when they have time to set up their defence. However, they struggle against the counter attack, as their small backs of Burgoyne, Taylor Duryea, Ben Stratton, Grant Birchall and Matt Suckling all lack significant leg speed.

Only Burgoyne and Stratton are good one on one players, leaving them exposed.

Verdict: Leave plenty of space open in the forward line to expose the Hawks on the fly.