Last summer I took a detailed look at Dirk Johnson's punting performance over his last three healthy seasons. Up to that point, I'd figured Sav Rocca was probably just going to be another training camp body -- a guy who could take some reps to keep the presumptive starter fresh, but not a long-term threat to win the position battle. After looking at the numbers, I realized Sav had more of a shot than I'd guessed.
This weekend, I did the same analysis with Sav's stats from last season. I again pulled all the situational stats for all the punters in the league for the comparison, but because the overall numbers weren't that different from the Johnson years, I figured it made more sense just to do a direct comparison between the two guys.
Now, I'll tell you at the top that this isn't going to be one of those "wow, who would have thought that" posts. In this case, the stats only reinforce what we already thought we knew:
1) Dirk at his best kicked a little farther than Sav did in his first season. The "power" statistics listed above represent only those punts from within the Eagles' 1-20 yard lines. This is the only place on the field where a punter can truly swing as hard as possible, without worrying about a potential touchback. Sav averaged 46.0 yards on those kicks this season, better than Dirk managed until last season. Neither figure is that great, but the issue for Dirk was leg strength. For Sav, it was consistency of technique, which improved as the year went on.
2) Sav already has better touch than Dirk did. The accuracy numbers show that Sav was better at avoiding the end zone and better at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard-line. (The "modified" inside 20 percentage strips out the long kicks described above since it's virtually impossible to get those within the 20-yard-line.) Sav pinned returners on 10 of his 15 punts from the opponent's half of the field. While that's still slightly below the league average of 70 percent, it matches the best figure Johnson recorded with the Eagles.
3) The return game is where the Eagles most need improvement. Just under 50 percent of Sav's kicks were returned, which is an improvement over last year and only slightly higher than the league average. The problem is that those returns were much too long. Some of that was due to Sav's tendency to kick line drives early in the season, but a lot of that is also a function of the Eagles' poor coverage teams. It's hard to parcel out blame exactly there, but the bottom line is that Sav's "return damage" stat (average return multiplied by the percentage of kicks returned) was 27th out of the 33 guys who had at least 20 punts this season. That needs to be fixed.
4) The bottom line: Sav was slightly below average in his first season, with overall numbers that were pretty close to what we've seen from Dirk the past few years. In fact, Rocca's gross and net punting figures were almost exactly in line with Dirk's 2006 stats. Given that this was his first year punting, we should expect to see improvement in his second season. And Sav has almost certainly done more that enough to guarantee he'll be back next year.