TEMPE, Ariz. -- During the offseason, the Cardinals let wide receiver Andre Roberts leave town without a fight to keep him in Arizona.
According to the numbers, especially in Arizona's short passing game, maybe they should have tried to keep him.
Roberts, who returns to the desert with his new team, the Washington Redskins, on Sunday, lined up out wide 25 times in 2013 -- 12 left, 13 right, which helped Arizona’s short passing game to a good but not great season.
Of Roberts’ 43 receptions in 2013, his final year with the Cardinals, 25 came on throws of 10 yards or less, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Arizona's average gain of 5.58 yards on short passes to the left and its completion percentage of 63.45 on short passes to the left were both ranked 23rd in the league a year ago. On short right passes, Arizona was better, with an average gain of 5.96 yards, good for 15th best in the NFL, and a completion percentage of 69.41, 10th best in the league.
Without him this season, Arizona’s short game has suffered.
The Cardinals are ranked last in the league in average gain and completion percentage on passes to the short left and short right sides.
Roberts wasn’t the sole reason for Arizona’s efficiency on screens and short passes, but he had a role in it, even if it was decreased.
From the slot and out wide last season, Roberts worked off the line of scrimmage. Nine of his receptions last season of 10 yards or less came between the sideline and the numbers, and 15 were completed between the hash mark and the numbers, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He averaged 5.92 yards per catch on receptions 10 yards or less.
Without Roberts this season, Arizona quarterbacks have completed 38 passes for 10 yards or less, and 31 have come outside the numbers, 19 in between the numbers and the hash marks, and five between the hash marks. Cardinals’ receivers are averaging 5.29 yards per catch on completions 10 yards of less.
Roberts' place in Arizona’s offense coming out 2012 was thought to be established. He had career highs in receptions (64), yards (759) and touchdowns (five). But after Bruce Arians took over in January 2013, Roberts saw his role as Arizona’s No. 2 receiver supplanted by Michael Floyd, and Roberts' numbers dropped to 43 receptions for 471 yards and two touchdowns.
He signed with Washington with the idea that he would be the Redskins’ No. 2 receiver, but after they signed DeSean Jackson, Roberts became a No. 3 again.
But as colleague John Keim, who covers the Redskins, pointed out this week, Roberts is getting targeted more this season (5.6 per game) than he did in 2013 (4.75).
The Cardinals’ overall passing offense also has declined without Roberts, but there is a caveat this season: Arizona has played three of its four games with backup quarterbacks.
The Cardinals’ completion percentage this season is 51.5 percent compared to 63.2 percent last season. Their drop percentage was better with Roberts (2.8) than without him (4.5), as was their yards per pass attempt (7.98 with vs. 6.9 without). Arizona is even averaging fewer touchdowns per game without Roberts (1.25) than with (1.5).
Arizona has continued to win without Roberts, but his impact on the passing game can be seen through the numbers.