Fri Oct 14 01:17pm EDT
The CFL has plenty of impressive punt and kick returners, as you can see from the combined return yardage totals here. However, all those yards haven't led to a ton of return touchdowns this season. A large part of that's due to kick coverage, which has been getting notably better over the last few years. Teams are putting more emphasis on stopping the return game and doing a better job of developing special-teams demons whose primary job is bringing down opposing returners, and that's helped to keep massive returns for touchdowns down.
When that coverage goes wrong, though, the results are often spectacularly destructive given the returners' talent and the size of the field they have to work with. We saw two great examples of that this past weekend in the CFL, and both were fueled by particular rules quirks in the Canadian game. First, here's Toronto Argonauts' returner Chad Owens taking a punt through an entire crowd of Montreal Alouettes for a touchdown Monday (which he's seen celebrating above):
This play's a great example of why the CFL's no yards rule works. In American football, with so many opponents around, the kick returner would likely signal for a fair catch. That rule doesn't exist in Canada, and is instead replaced by no yards, a five or 15-yard penalty applied if offside opposing players (so not the punter or kicker) are within five yards of the ball when it's first touched by a member of the receiving team. It's a five-yard penalty if the ball has already hit the ground, 15 if it hasn't.
That penalty means teams usually give returners a little bit of room, which gives them a chance to make a play. If they don't, they automatically concede yards. In a case like the Owens situation, though, Montreal got too close and was called for no yards (delayed), but Owens still was able to spin away from defenders and go for the touchdown. In American football, he probably would have had to call for a fair catch and we'd have been deprived of a thrilling play.
The second play comes from B.C. kicker Paul McCallum's missed field goal against Calgary Friday, which Larry Taylor took back for a touchdown. Here it is:
In American football, you can't usually do anything with a missed field goal. The ball is in fact live, and that sometimes allows for returns, but the positioning of the goalposts at the back of the end zones means that most field goals that miss aren't going to be returnable. In Canada, because the posts are at the front, that allows for plenty of missed field goals to be kept alive.
The addition of the rouge also adds impetus for teams to keep a returner or several back, further increasing the chances of a big return (and setting up crazily enjoyable endgame scenarios like the 2010 Montreal - Toronto clash). That allowed Taylor to take McCallum's missed field goal back for a touchdown Friday. In American football, a miss would have been just a footnote that snapped McCallum's streak of consecutive field goals; here, it made the game more exciting and set up his last-second heroics. Sure, the CFL's rules may seem quirky to some, but they can lead to spectacular moments, and we saw two prime examples of that this week.