Punt vs. Kickoff vs. Missed Field Goal Returns

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Punt vs. Kickoff vs. Missed Field Goal Returns

Postby Robbie » Sun May 06, 2007 9:15 pm

I think it's interesting to analyze why similar plays can produce very different results and the various difficulties and strategies involved with each. In the CFL, there are three kinds of plays that involve kicking the ball. In each case, the opponent can recover the ball and then return it:

1. Punt
2. Kickoff
3. Missed field goal

In the NFL, a missed field goal automatically declares the play dead and the opponent gets the ball either at the 20-yard line or at the spot of the field goal attempt, whichever is farther from their own goal line. This presents some difficulty when deciding whether to punt or attempt a long field goal. Because if a long field goal attempt is missed, the opponent can get the ball in very good field position.

But in the CFL, a missed field goal must be returned so that makes things more interesting for the team currently in possession of the ball. Let's say team A is facing a 3rd and long from their opponent's 43-yard line. A field goal attempt would then come from 50-yards, which is roughly the upper limit for most placekickers including their own. So team A must now decide whether to punt the ball with the possibility of pinning team B deep in their end zone if it doesn't go for a single, or attempt a field goal to score 3 points.

Here is where I've been confused: Would it be correct to say that a long field goal attempt incorporates a punt attempt since, with good coverage, team B can still be trapped deep in their side of the field if they don't concede a single?

If that is correct, then shouldn't teams be trying long field goals more often than just punting, since missing the field goal would almost be identical to punting?

But somehow, that doesn't seem to be the case and this brings me to my next point. When it comes to returning the ball for a great distance and even a touchdown, it seems like the order from the easiest to the most difficult would be:

1. Missed field goal return for a TD (easiest)
2. Punt return for a TD (middle)
3. Kickoff return for a TD (hardest)

One of the most entertaining plays in Grey Cup history was the missed field goal return for a TD by Henry "The Gizmo" Williams early in the 1987 Grey Cup. I think what makes missed field goal returns so entertaining is that when the returner gets his hands on the ball, he is usually in his own end zone so the long distance he must run produces so much excitement. Kickoff returns for a TD don't happen too often, but when they happen they are also very exciting. Two very memorable ones are by Raghib "Rocket" Ismail in the 1991 Grey Cup, and by Tony Tompkins in the 2005 Grey Cup.

Blitz already talked about kickoff coverage in this thread:
http://www.lionbackers.com/cheer/viewtopic.php?t=10595

But let's discuss this some more. What are the differences in difficulty between returning a missed field goal, a punt, and a kickoff, and why?

Here are some of my reasons:

1. In a field goal attempt, the kicker will be trying to kick the ball in to the middle of the field, giving the returning more space to work with. Unlike a punt, in which the punter can angle it towards the sidelines or out of bounds.

2. It is probably easier to fake a field goal attempt for a first down play than to do it on a punt attempt. The defence is aware of this so they usually have a defender down field other than the returner to watch for such plays. He is quick to provide blocking for the returner.

3. On punt attempts, there is the no-yards rule. So if the returner draws a no-yards penalty, he can be more carefree and less careful in his return because even if he fumbles away the ball, his team can still accept the penalty and regain possession.

4. On kickoffs, there isn't a no-yards rule so returners are more quick to handle the ball before it can be recovered by the kicking team. Also, the kicking team's defenders are usually more spread out instead of all bunched up on the line of scrimmage on field goal attempts and punts. The fact that the coverage is more spread out makes kickoff returns more difficult.

5. Kickoffs usually go much farther than punts. A good kickoff placekicker can average over 60 yards per kickoff, whereas good punters only average about 45 yards.
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Postby Robbie » Sat May 12, 2007 12:55 am

Interesting 2006 statistics on all three kinds of returns can be seen at:

http://www.cfl.ca/index.php?module=fbst ... &year=2006
http://www.cfl.ca/index.php?module=fbst ... &year=2006
http://www.cfl.ca/index.php?module=fbst ... &year=2006

It appears that the players with the best kickoff returns averaged between 23 and 24 yards. For punt returns, the best averages were between 11 and 12 yards. And for missed field goal returns, there was a wider distribution but the best averages were over 30 yards. So these statistics indicate that missed field goal returns are by far the hardest to effectively cover, followed by kickoff returns while punt returns seem to be the easiest to cover.

In addition, there was only 1 punt return and 1 kickoff return for a touchdown in 2006.
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Postby Blitz » Sun May 13, 2007 6:09 pm

The difference Robbie...between choosing to punt the football vs a long field goal attempt is 1) it's easier to return a missed field goal than a punt or kickoff for a touchdown or long yardage and 2) a punt allows your punter to place the football in a position that allows the punt cover team to be in a good position to negate a return.

The key difference is that punting the football allows you to put your best cover guys in there. On a field goal attempt you need to keep your offensive line in and that creates serious cover problems, especially if the returner can get past the first wave....and he usually has a lot of room to work with. On a field goal attempt you have to keep everyone in to block..while on a punt you can line up a couple of cover guys outside...so you even have more problems with your initial wave of tacklers getting to the return man.

This season you'll see many more punt returns for touchdowns and likely a few more kickoff returns as well. You'll also see bigger yardage on returns.
The new blocking rules will likely have less impact on missed field goal returns but they still will have an impact.

So, in short, if you want to go for a long field goal....the points better be very important and the team must have a lot of confidence in your field goal kicker from a long distance and you feel you can cover missed field goals well......because if not...the odds are better to punt...because they could be running the missed field goal right up your @#*# and saying 'see you later'!!
"When I went to Catholic high school in Philadelphia, we just had one coach for football and basketball. He took all of us who turned out and had us run through a forest. The ones who ran into the trees were on the football team". (George Raveling)
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Postby lion24 » Sun May 13, 2007 6:38 pm

:whs: exactly, it scares the heck out of me when the lions go for a long field goal and there is a speed merchant waiting back there to go blazing past the offensive lineman, a kicker and maybe a few guys with enough speed to stop a 40-50 yard return. :bang:
Thank you for everything you did for OUR Lions Mr.Ackles, we will never forget you...RIP
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Postby Robbie » Wed May 23, 2007 9:55 pm

Despite the difficulties in good coverage after a missed field goal, the Lions did their job in the 1994 Grey Cup after Lui Passaglia's second missed field goal of the game from 37 yards with less than than 1:30 remaining. Baltimore returner Charles Anthony barely got the ball out of his end zone. But they were pinned deep and the Lions managed to force them into a two and out series.

The commentators of the game mentioned that maybe Lui can try to punt out of the end zone on his second attempt. In the end, it was good he didn't do that because I punt might be even easier to bring out of the end zone, as evidenced by last season's OT loss in Saskatchewan when Buono told McCallum to punt for the win.
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