The Arizona Cardinals' problems have been many and varied throughout the season. It seemed that for every problem they seemed to identify, three more reared their ugly heads.
Fortunately, in the last five weeks, the Cardinals have been much improved and appear to have broken the back of many, if not most, of their lingering difficulties.
Although they have still struggled to move the ball through the air, in recent games their running game and defense have both looked much improved, so much so, that—perhaps as much through luck as judgement—the Cardinals are now 4-1 in their last five games and at 5-7 on the season.
The team is just two games away from playoff contention, if results elsewhere fall its way.
For the Cardinals, the biggest lingering doubts have been at wide receiver.
Larry Fitzgerald is an elite receiver, but opposing defenses know this. Teams have been more than happy to blanket Fitzgerald and dare the Cardinals to throw it elsewhere.
When you have a quarterback who is already struggling to learn the system, receivers he cannot depend on may just be the nail in the coffin.
The Cardinals have multiple receivers on their team who have shown promise, including Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and pass-catching tight ends Rob Housler and Todd Heap, but injury, lack of practice time with their new quarterback and on-field inconsistency prevented any one from establishing themselves as a real threat for the Cardinals.
For several weeks now, after trading the WR2 position back and forth, both Roberts and Doucet have threatened to break out and establish themselves as the replacement for Steve Breaston for the Cardinals.
Against the Cowboys, Andre Roberts may have done just that.Roberts was targeted six times throughout the game, and managed to haul in all six attempts for 111 yards and an 18.5 yard average.
Roberts appeared unstoppable, making catches which would have made Larry Fitzgerald look good.
As the Cardinals prepare to try and topple the 49ers, they will be acutely aware that pass coverage is still the weakest part of their stellar defense.
If the Cardinals hope to do the impossible and beat San Francisco, it will come on the back of the effort of people like Roberts. A performance like the one against the Cowboys will force the opposing team to take Roberts very seriously.
On the evidence of what we have seen so far, that game may just come against the 49ers. In the Cardinals' drubbing at the hands of San Francisco in Candlestick park last month, Roberts was the team's leading receiver, and in this game, the Cardinals will have a supremely confident Kevin Kolb back under center.
With Kevin Kolb appearing much more confident treating Roberts as his No. 1 guy when Fitzgerald is blanketed, he seems likely to receive more targets this week.
Perhaps Roberts is finally getting to grips with this offense, perhaps he is just more comfortable with the way Kevin Kolb is now delivering the ball, but Roberts looked every bit the NFL wide receiver against the Cowboys, and ran routes and caught balls with much more confidence than he presented early in the season.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Roberts' success came at a cost. Early Doucet, also targeted six times, was held to two catches for no yards. Having a legitimate No. 2 receiver is good, but having depth at receiver would be much better for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals will want to establish Roberts as a legitimate threat early, and hopefully free up space for Fitzgerald and Doucet to be much more productive against a solid San Francisco secondary.
Roberts is not the only player who needs to step up against San Francisco, but his emergence could not have come at a better time for a Cardinals team trying desperately to keep their hopes of miracle run to the playoffs alive.
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