Dyson Heppell in action against Richmond
ESSENDON has taken its defensive game to another level just in time for a top-four clash against reigning premiers the Sydney Swans at the SCG on Saturday evening.
Coach James Hird praised his team's tackling pressure against Richmond on Saturday night and said the second quarter was the best he'd seen an Essendon team defend in a long time.
The Bombers out-tackled Richmond 60-49, despite having more of the football, and held the Tigers to their lowest score of the season.
Midfielder Dyson Heppell, who starred with 27 disposals and seven inside 50s, said there had been a clear lift in the team's defensive efforts.
"I think our defensive game was fantastic," Heppell told AFL.com.au.
"We managed to slow their ball movement down coming off half-back and I think that held us in good stead.
"It's something we worked on throughout the week, making tackles stick, and I think we were able to do that.
"It was a massive factor in the win."
Essendon lost key forward Michael Hurley to another ankle injury late in the second quarter, but the club is hopeful he will be fit to face the Swans on Saturday.
Heppell said it was important that midfielders like skipper Jobe Watson (three goals), David Zaharakis (two) and Brent Stanton (one) were able to step up and kick goals against the Tigers.
"He (Hurley) is a massive key for us. He went down last week as well and you hate to see it," Heppell said.
"With our depth at the moment, we obviously missed 'Hurls' but other players were able to fill his role."
While the Bombers lifted their tackling pressure on Saturday night, the Swans also rediscovered their 'trademarks' against Collingwood on Friday night, according to midfielder Dan Hannebery.
Like Essendon, the Swans were also strong defensively, keeping Collingwood to its lowest score this season, and they continue to lead the AFL for average contested possessions this season (155.2).
"The pressure was back to where we wanted it to be," Hannebery told AFL.com.au.
"Guys were working hard for each other and that's got to be the baseline for us each week.
"It was really pleasing and I think the guys are going to get a lot of confidence out of the win … we worked hard together."
Nathan Schmook is a reporter for AFL Media. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_Nathan