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:
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:
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.