Wally Buono is laughing on the phone before the question even gets out.
The best way to prevent all these long runbacks on missed field goals this year in the CFL? Don't miss.
He's not kidding.
We're only just over a month into the Canadian Football League season and already there have been three missed three pointers run all the way back for seven the other way. That's one more than all of last year.
Would have been four if one of the returners hadn't tried to hot dog his way into the end zone and wound up tackled on the one yard line.
There was Chris Williams, in Hamilton, blowing past the Toronto Argonauts for 121 yards.
Tristan Jackson turned a record breaking trick in Regina against the B.C. Lions by stretching out and grabbing a missed field goal at the back of the end zone and taking off for a 129 yard odyssey.
Larry Taylor of Calgary did it against Toronto, zipping 125 yards off a Noel Prefontaine miss.
And finally Williams again, who would have had his second if he hadn't turned around at the Montreal 15 and tried to backpedal in with a teammate before being tackled on the one in a play made more inexplicable because he doesn't normally act like a wiener. It's really quite simple
What's going on seems simple enough, says the B.C. Lions general manager, who spent 20 seasons on the sidelines. To paraphrase, this is what happens when you have five fat guys trying to run down a Ferrari.
"When you look at it, the best opportunity in the game to create a big play is a missed field goal," says Buono.
And this is why.
"You have five ... 300 pound offensive linemen covering kicks, the bulk of your people are all within 12 yards of each other, all clustered, and it's easier to get a holdup (block) on them," he says. "And, you have great returners like [teams] have. So, it's very dangerous."
Teams try to put in "blocking packages", where they take out a heavy weight who can't run that well and replace him with a defensive line heavyweight who runs slightly better, but they still don't have much chance when the sports car goes sailing by at full speed.
Hamilton coach George Cortez, who enjoys the advantage of putting out one of the league's best on the return team, says of the big fellas, "no offence to them, they just aren't built to run down the field and tackle Chris Williams."
It doesn't help that the game is played on a cow pasture, either.
"You take a 65 yard wide field [and] five offensive linemen, wherever they are at for all practical purposes there's nobody ... they are just gonna get run by," Cortez says.
"It's a tough situation."Only five guys to beat
Making it worse, there's also the kicker out there, and his holder, who almost always is a backup quarterback. Neither of those is much of a tackler either.
Thus, the returner has, basically, only five real defenders he has to beat to get a big return in the books.
The trick, Williams says, is to get through the first wave and then have great blockers with you who can take care of anyone trying to recover and get you late.
Punts are different. Yes, they are run back for scores, but that happens less than two per cent of the time (223 returns for four TDs this season so far).
There have been 13 missed field goals and 3 officially run back. That's 23 per cent, or 27 if you count Williams's mistake. No wonder coaches have nightmares.
Buono instructs that on punts, the blockers hit once and then release downfield before the kick. On field goals, they have to hang in to prevent a blocked kick and can't release until after the ball is away. Makes a huge difference.
There is a statistical anomaly at play here because in 2011 there were only two missed field goal runbacks all season.
Williams says the returners are simply gaining experience.
"This is my second year, Tristan's been in the league for some years, Larry has been in the league for some years, and guys just have it figured out."
Whatever is going on, there are solutions at hand.
Buono strongly believes one trick is you don't try field goals longer than 45 yards unless it's late in the game and critical. Or, put another way, unless you are sure your kicker can put the ball through the back of the end zone even if he misses, it isn't worth the risk.
That's starting to happen across the league because three points for you can turn into seven for the other guy in about 20 seconds.
"I used to not like doing long field goals, and people were critical, but now they're understanding why it's dangerous," he says. "It changes a game completely around." A little discipline helps
Chris Van Zeyl, a Toronto big fella who wowed the crowd against Winnipeg by being the first down on a missed field goal and hammering Jovon Johnson in the end zone, believes a little discipline is in order as well.
"When guys don't run down their lanes [their designated area] you see the results," he says. "When you run your lanes, the offensive linemen are supposed to divert the guy running the ball and because we run down the lane it allows the guys who are a little quicker and more capable of making tackles [to do their jobs]."
He thinks we'll see less returns now because the tacklers have been given a wakeup call and are paying more attention.
Wally warns it works the other way, too.
"When guys see other guys returning them for touchdowns, they work harder to do it as well," he says.
One other thing, however. If the returner chooses to run the ball out of the end zone and winds up being tackled on the three yard line, he gets hammered in the film room on Monday morning. So, there's caution there.
Still, next time you're watching a game and there's a missed field goal, that sound you hear will be the Ferrari warming up its engines. The groan is the opposing coach, averting his eyes and hoping he's not the one about to get run over again.
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