While the likes of Zach Merrett, David Zaharakis and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti can leave any team in their dust, there was something concerning about just how slow the Hawks were made to look.
Last year their lack of pace was a concern and was a huge reason why they were bundled out of the finals in straight sets.
On Saturday night they were exposed once again, particularly from half-back through to half-forward.
The ability of Merrett, in particular, to break lines between the arcs resulted in Hawthorn's defensive six to be caught out on multiple occasions, resulting in far too many easy marks inside 50 for Essendon.
When looking at Essendon’s heat map for the game, they had 148 disposals across Hawthorn’s half-back, which was easily the most for any position on the ground.
Despite running with a forward line featuring Jarryd Roughead, Tyrone Vickery and Ryan Schoenmakers who are all at least 193cm tall, they finished the game behind the Bombers for marks inside forward 50, 16-9.
This deficit came despite Essendon playing just one recognized key forward, Joe Daniher.
Combined, the Hawks' tall timber trio took four marks inside the arc, just one more than Daniher had by himself.
Early signs are showing that the three-pronged key forward attack will be a disaster.
When all three were on the ground together the Hawks’ forward structure was a mess.
There was absolutely no space for anybody to work into, which completely nullified the hard work of the midfield, which won the clearance battle 38-36.
Essendon’s defenders were able to kill almost every ball that was kicked towards a tall target.
Once the ball hit the deck the Hawks weren’t able to capitalize due to the increased presence of tall timber.
Last season’s forward setup worked much more efficiently as if their tall targets weren’t marking the ball they’d bring it to ground and let four or five small forwards feast on the crumbs.
With less small forwards present on Saturday night the opportunities to go on the attack once the ball hit the ground decreased, replaced mostly by the need to immediately defend.
This resulted in Hawthorn laying a staggering 19 tackles inside their forward 50 compared to Essendon’s seven.
Paul Puopolo, an injured Cyril Rioli and Luke Breust had to work overtime defensively just to keep the ball from being sent away as quickly as it came in.
Despite their efforts, Hawthorn still struggled to lock their ball in and capitalize on inside 50 opportunities.
The Hawks won the inside 50 battle 59-56, but only converted 46 percent of those entries into scoring shots.
The Bombers, on the other hand, converted 63 percent of their opportunities.
They converted at the sixth worst rate for the round, only ahead of Carlton, Collingwood, Sydney (who played in the wet), Gold Coast and Fremantle.
That’s not great company to be in.
It’s clear Alistair Clarkson is experimenting with this side, most notably with pushing Jack Gunston and James Sicily, noted goal kickers last season, higher up the ground. Gunston played mostly on the wing and only touched the ball four times in Hawthorn’s forward 50, while Sicily played off the back flank and picked up nine of his 11 possessions in the back half.
Clarkson appears to be looking for players who can replace the likes of Grant Birchall and Shaun Burgoyne who are starting to wind down their careers, but he’s doing it at the expense of a functioning forward line.
Gunston and Sicily have been forced up the ground, and all of a sudden the Hawks’ forward line has lost two crafty forwards who kicked 69 goals combined in 2016.
More importantly than the number of goals they kicked, Gunston and Sicily are the hybrid players who bridge the gap between your Tyrone Vickery type tall forward and your Cyril Rioli style small forward.
They’re tall enough to provide a marking target inside 50, but also agile and quick enough to cause serious havoc on the ground.
This type of forward is arguably the hardest to match up on.
Removing them means Hawthorn are left with either tall timber or the mosquito fleet, but nothing in between.
This week Hawthorn faces the Adelaide Crows, who boast one of the better defensive six setups in the league.
A crowded forward line will play right into Daniel Talia’s hands.
Even more concerning is the thought of what Rory Laird could do.
Laird had 40 disposals in the Crows win over Greater Western Sydney, with 20 of them coming across half-back.
If the same forward structure is kept this week Laird could well and truly surpass 20 disposals off half-back.
It’s clear that Hawthorn needs to drop one of their tall targets.
There’s zero chance of captain Jarryd Roughead being dropped and Tyrone Vickery is crucial to the Hawks as a backup ruckman.
That leaves Ryan Schoenmakers as the odd man out.
He had just 11 disposals against Essendon, most of which came up the ground.
The two disposals he did have inside Hawthorn’s forward 50 were right on the paint of the arc.
He also had four turnovers.
Schoenmakers just doesn’t provide the team with anything crucial at the moment, and with Hawthorn’s forward line not functioning it looks like Box Hill might be his home for the foreseeable future.