Now that punter Durant Brooks has been cut, it looks like the battle for job of Eagles punter will fall to two men: veteran Sav Rocca and relative newcomer Ken Parrish. It would probably be safe to say that Rocca doesn't have too many fans around Eagles Nation. We all know the usual complaints: "He's inconsistent!" "He's old!" "He has a funny accent!" Still, is Rocca really all that bad? Well, if you look at his punting average for the 2009 season, our former Aussie-rules football player ended up with 42.4 yards per punt, ranked twenty fifth in the NFL. That's pretty unimpressive, no doubt about that. But what went wrong?
Now, I could examine each of Rocca's 76 punts this past season, but I think I'll spare us from that particular horror. Instead, let's take a look at five of Rocca's worst games, punting average-wise. So sit back, throw a shrimp on the barbie, and get comfortable, this one's going to be a doozy. Some of you may want to avert your eyes.
Week 3: Kansas City at Philadelphia - 41.0 avg
Analysis: Punt one was a beautiful 53-yarder to pin Bobby Wade deep in a corner. While Wade did gain ten yards off the return before he was stopped by Akeem Jordan and Jon Dorenbos, I wouldn't say Rocca necessarily outkicked his coverage. (Sidenote: how great is it that we have a long snapper that can get down the field so quickly?) The end result was that the Chiefs started from their own 24, were pushed backwards to their own 9, and were forced to punt. I'd call that a successful punt.
Punt two was a 31-yarder that was fair caught by Wade to pin Kansas City at their own 15. It was a safe, short kick that allowed the Eagles special teams to get a man on Wade immediately and force a fair catch. I'm not saying I wouldn't have liked to see Rocca pin the Chiefs back a bit further, but you take what you can get. The Chiefs made it to their own 48 on the ensuing drive and punted again.
Punt number three was a weak 39 yards. If it hadn't been for the illegal block in the back by Brandon Carr, the Chiefs would have started at their own 41, giving Rocca a net of only 18 yards after Bobby Wade's slippery 21 yard return. Still, if Carr hadn't shoved Ellis Hobbs, Hobbs likely would have caused a fumble the way he was gunning for Bobby Wade. Again, Rocca's punt was a "safe" one that allowed his guys to get downfield quickly and attack the returner, but I would have liked to see a little more distance. Still, the end result was that the Chiefs started from their own 15, went three-and-out, and continued their terrible play. With any other team, Rocca might not have been so lucky.
The Verdict: During his limited action in week three, Rocca showed flashes of his deep punting ability that we all know and love, but showed a need for improvement from punts around midfield. He never risked a touchback, but failed to angle the ball along the sidelines, instead landing his kicks in the middle of the field on shorter punts.
Week 7: Philadelphia at Washington - 34.5 avg
Analysis: Rocca started the game effectively, although not spectacularly, with a thirty yard punt to pin the Redskins inside their own 15. The short punt allowed the Eagles special teams to immediately surround the returner, Antwaan Randle El, and force a fair catch. Nothing special out of Rocca there, but the result was fine - an ensuing 15 yard drive by the Skins and a punt to turn the ball back over to the Eagles
Since the Eagles decided not to go for a 53 yard field goal, Rocca got a chance at another short punt. This time, he landed one inside the ten and close to the left sideline. This was probably his best punt of the game. The special teams coverage was there to force another fair catch, the ball had virtually no chance of traveling into the endzone, and the Redskins were pinned at their own 9. The following drive by the Skins stalled quickly and led to one of my favorite Eagles moments from last season - Will Witherspoon's pick six off of Jason Campbell.
Now, we all love the result of punt number three - Randel El muffs the punt, Sean Jones recovers, and the Eagles go on to tack three more points onto the scoreboard. But how much of that was Sav Rocca's doing? The distance was average - 40 yards - but any further and the special teams coverage might not have been able to contain Randle El on the return. The key to this play was that Rocca had the ball was tumbling end over end, making it difficult to catch. Solid punt here with a great result.
Rocca's fourth punt went for 46 yards and had enough hangtime to allow Quintin Demps to sprint down the field and trip up Santana Moss in the middle of the field for a one yard loss. The Redskins followed up with a three-and-out.
Punt number five wasn't anything to write home about - a 23 yard end-over-end ball that had Randel El and about nine different Eagles players hovering under it before it landed. Sure, it was a safe bet that led to a fair catch inside the twenty, but again, a little more distance would have been nice.
In punt number six, Rocca faced his third return man of the night, DeAngelo Hall, in a very difficult kick from his own endzone. The Redskins brought the pressure on Rocca and it clearly affected him. He ended up kicking the ball out of bounds at the Philadelphia 32 - a sad 25 yard punt. Thankfully, a sack by Trent Cole on the ensuing drive forced the Redskins into another three-and-out, but as I've said before, against a more talented team, Rocca might not have been so lucky.
Rocca's seventh punt was his longest - a 49 yarder that backed Randle El up to the right corner of the four yard line. Normally, that punt would have gone into the endzone, but since the Redskins were down 27-10 with under ten minutes left in the game, it's understandable that they'd try to return the ball and make something happen. This was a great punt by Rocca to take advantage of a desperate Redskins team.
With his final punt of the game, Rocca had a chance to redeem himself with a second punt from his own endzone. It's difficult to see because of the camera angle, but the Redskins didn't bring as much pressure this time, instead focusing on blocking for the returner - which is ironic since there ended up being no return. One would think though, that with minimal pressure in his face, Rocca could have managed a deeper punt than 36 yards. Even though there was only 4:07 left in the game, this "safe punt" gave the Redskins the short field and allowed them to score another (although meaningless) touchdown.
The Verdict: While Rocca showed a little improvement with his short punts - angling them to the sidelines and pinning the returner deep, he had an awful day when kicking from his own endzone.
Week 10: Philadelphia at San Diego - 40.0 avg
Analysis: Here we see another example of Rocca's poor endzone punting ability. The kick sails out of bounds at the Philadelphia 40 for a total yardage of 30. Now, I can understand not wanting to kick to a dangerous returner like Darren Sproles so close to your own endzone, but a 30-yard punt?? C'mon, Rocca...
Rocca's second punt, however, was much improved. A very accurate end-over-end kick to the left corner of the field allowed Ramzee Robinson a great shot at Sproles, pinning the Chargers at their own 8.
Punt number three was another good deep one (52 yards) that forced Sproles to start the return from the right side of the 10 yard line. The special teams coverage was able to wrap him up quickly and prevented him from making the big play.
The fourth and final punt was a short 38 yards with enough hangtime to allow the Eagles special teams to stop Sproles for a minimal gain. However, it was aimed directly down the middle of the field and didn't get the distance necessary to pin the Chargers inside their own 20, which might have prevented their explosive offense from scoring again. Instead, Phillip Rivers and company started at the 24 and, five plays later, LaDanian Tomlinson rushed into the endzone to put San Diego up 21 to 6.
Analysis: Rocca continued to show his lack of composure when punting from his own endozne. When punting from the middle of the field, he again showed flashes of skill but still struggled with that inconsistency we've all come to know.
Week 11: Philadelphia at Chicago - 33.8 avg
Analysis: Rocca starts the game off well with a 45 yard punt, forcing Devin Hester to backpedal a bit to the right sideline of his own 9. The ball's proximity to the sideline allows the Eagles special teams to crowd up Hester's running room and take him down for only a 9 yard gain.
I'm not sure what was going through Rocca's head after this 16 yard disaster. Tack Joe Mays' intelligible downfield penalty and you're looking at a net gain of 11 yards from that punt. Simply atrocious. Or, in the words of Al Michaels, "a duck."
Rocca climbs back into the game a bit with a 38 yard punt to the right corner of the Chicago 14. Hester is pushed out of bounds almost immediately.
By the looks of it, punt number three fell short of Hester's (and most everyone else's) expectations when it took a bad bounce and rolled out of bounds at the Chicago 23. While it's nice to see Rocca angling his kicks towards the sidelines, this particular punt just didn't have the power or the accuracy necessary to pin the Bears inside their own 20.
On his final punt of the game, Rocca did a good job of angling the ball along the sidelines, but failed to get much distance, only covering 38 yards. Still, the short punt once again allowed the Eagles special teams to crowed the returner's running lanes and push him out of bounds for a minimal gain.
The Verdict: This was one of Rocca's worst games last season. He just couldn't get the distance on many of his punts and continued to struggle with his accuracy.
Week 15: San Francisco at Philadelphia - 40.3 avg
Analysis: In a game where a much-needed win meant a trip to the playoffs, Rocca starts off the game with a decent punt. Arnaz Battle is given virtually no chance to return, but the 44 yard punt is not enough to pin the 49ers inside their own 20, even with Battle's 3 yard backpedal.
Rocca's second punt is a poorer version of his first. The ball only travels 39 yards, lands in the middle of the field, and fails to pin San Francisco inside their own 20. Still, with great coverage again by the Eagles special teams, Battle is dropped for a gain of only 2.
Now this is heartbreaking to see. One of Rocca's best punts all season sails 44 yards, rolls to the 1, is downed by Joselio Hanson and...negated due to a stupid illegal touching penalty. The re-kick proves that lightening can't strike twice as the ball bounces into the endzone for a touchback.
Rocca gets lucky on his final punt when Battle opts not to return the kick and instead lets it roll to the San Francisco 13. Rocca's aim on the punt was good, but his distance could have been a little better.
The Verdict: Rocca had a few average punts in this game, but his only one worthy of a highlight reel was negated. The distance on his kicks often left something to be desired, and his accuracy was again shaky at times. Fortunately, the skill of the Eagles special teams (minus Hanson) and the lack of return ability in Arnaz Battle produced a total of two return yards all day.
The Final Word:
I'll start off with a positive thought. In this five game sample set, Sav Rocca faced return men of all skill levels and managed to keep them all from breaking off a big run. In fact, Rocca was one of the many punters who did not allow a return touchdown all season. That being said, a returner's lack of success against Rocca largely comes from the fact that his short punts often allow the Eagles special teams to get downfield and surround the returner before he has a chance to move. While this prevents the big play (and sometimes causes a turnover) the opposing team is rarely left with bad field position, which is the entire point of being a punter. In this case, "safe" and "decent" punts just aren't good enough for the NFL. Rocca's inconsistent accuracy and distance on his kicks was a thorn (albeit a small one) in the side of the Eagles special teams last season. Still, the front office obviously had enough confidence in Rocca to not spend a draft pick on a replacement punter but instead bring in two low-end free agents to light a fire under him. Will the introduction of new special teams coach Bobby April help Rocca to stabilize his shaky punting? Can an old dog be taught new tricks? Will Ken Parrish give Rocca a run for his money? Only time will tell.