Andre Roberts had 97 yards on eight catches while surrendering his body in the season opener at the St. Louis Rams. Roberts' performance that day showed what the Arizona Cardinals' offense could be: A devastating passing attack in which the third wide receiver had almost 100 yards.
But Roberts was getting passes that would normally been reserved for tight end Rob Housler had he been healthy. Housler was out the first two weeks of the season recovering from an ankle injury. Roberts got his chance and made the most of it.
Then his opportunities began to dissipate. He only had three catches in Week 2 for 36 yards, then one each in Weeks 3 and 4. In Week 5, Roberts did not have a catch and was targeted just once.
As Roberts' touches dropped, the Cardinals' offense began to slow down.
“He's played more outside receiver with Robbie back,” coach Bruce Arians said. “So that's going to probably affect his numbers and is something we'll look at.”
Of Roberts' 210 snaps this season, 92 have been from the left or right wide receiver position, 59 have been from the slot, and 27 have been from the inside and 27 from the outside slot when three receivers bunch next to the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The farther Roberts has moved toward the sideline, the lower his numbers have gone. He has long been the Cardinals' slot receiver, quick and willing to lay his body out, but this year he has been moving around, like his fellow receivers, in Arians' new offense. He has essentially played out of position and it has shown.
The statistics show that the Cardinals' offense is better without Roberts on the field.
Roberts and Housler have shared the field for 68 plays since the tight end returned on Sept. 22, but with Housler's workload increasing the last two weeks, he's been taking most of Roberts' passes. Here is how the Arizona offense has performed over the course of the season and the past two games with and without Roberts.
“I think we've tried to get other guys the ball,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Now that Robbie has come back, we have tried to call his number a couple of times.
“I expect [Roberts] to prepare this week and be ready to go in there. It's the type of offense where you don't know who it's going to be. It's not always going to be Larry [Fitzgerald] catching the ball. It's not always going to be [Mike] Floyd. Mike has had a number of opportunities. It just depends on how people are going to defend us."
Even though the statistics say the Cardinals offense improves without Roberts on the field, Arizona's performance has not shown that. The Cardinals' overall and passing yards have decreased in every game except against Tampa Bay in Week 4. Palmer threw for 187 yards against New Orleans and 175 against Carolina. At Tampa Bay, he had 248.
On Tuesday, Arians said the Cardinals ffense has deteriorated since the St. Louis game -- the same one in which Roberts had a major impact. Coincidence?
Here's a look at Palmer's numbers to Roberts compared to the rest of the receivers over the season and the past two games.
The numbers are skewed because Roberts was targeted just three times in the last two games, but his numbers were better when looked at through all five games. He was clearly effective, connecting on more than half his targets from Palmer. With Housler struggling to find a rhythm with the quarterback -- Housler dropped the only pass thrown his way Sunday -- Roberts may find a place in this week's offense.