- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2022

ASHBURN — Take a look at the weekend’s box score and there’s nothing to suggest the Washington Commanders are out of sync when it comes to utilizing a talent like Terry McLaurin. After all, the wide receiver caught six passes for 102 yards.

But stats can be deceiving.

McLaurin didn’t haul in his first catch in Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles until the 7:01 mark of the third quarter. Sunday’s loss marks the latest outing in which the wideout’s production mainly has come in the second half.

Only one of McLaurin’s 12 catches this season has come before halftime. Washington’s inability to get its top playmaker more involved sooner underscores the difficulties the offense has experienced this year during its slow starts. 

McLaurin isn’t the type of wideout to publicly complain about his touches, but the lack of targets in the first half has his attention.

“You do want to get involved as early as possible,” said McLaurin, who ranks 15th in the league with 235 receiving yards this season.

McLaurin’s lone first-half catch this season was an uneventful one. In Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 27-year-old hauled in a short pass that went for nine yards at the start of the second quarter. McLaurin’s next catch — a timely 49-yard touchdown — didn’t come until there was 9:43 left in the fourth. He was only targeted once in between. 

At the time, players and coaches were mostly dismissive of McLaurin’s slow start. For one, Washington beat Jacksonville, so a victory helps mask any issues. And against the Jaguars, offensive coordinator Scott Turner tailored the game plan early to Curtis Samuel — the wide receiver who played in only five games last year because of injuries. That strategy worked as Samuel (72 yards from scrimmage on 15 touches) was productive. A win’s a win, as the saying goes. 

But the Commanders haven’t won the last two games. And they appear to recognize there’s a problem at hand.

McLaurin said Turner met with him before Wednesday’s practice to go over the lack of early touches. But interestingly enough, the wide receiver didn’t indicate that the ball would be headed his way. He said Turner relayed to him that the team has a variety of playmakers and they also need to establish the run.

“Me personally, I feel like every receiver wants the ball as many times as (possible),” McLaurin said. “That’s myself included. But at the same time, I really care about winning. … My mentality is just not to focus on how many times I’m getting the ball or demanding it necessarily.” 

McLaurin, who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and signed a three-year, $71 million extension in the offseason, said he hasn’t necessarily noticed any extra attention from defenses this year that have contributed to the lack of first-half production. Defenses have played some cloud coverage that draws defenders to him, though Washington has other weapons like Samuel and rookie Jahan Dotson that defenses have to account for. 

Coach Ron Rivera has shown frustration, at times, when asked about McLaurin’s involvement. There have been plays, he said, in which McLaurin was supposed to be the go-to option, but the wideout has either been covered or quarterback Carson Wentz decided to throw elsewhere. Rivera noted that as the game progresses, there have been opportunities for McLaurin in part because the opposing defense started to make adjustments elsewhere. 

Make no mistake, though, there is a clear difference this season in how McLaurin is being targeted. Last year, with quarterback Taylor Heinicke pulling the trigger, almost half of McLaurin’s targets — 64 of 130 — happened in the first two quarters, and they resulted in more than half of his catches (42 of 77). McLaurin had only three games — Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers and Weeks 14 and 16 against the Dallas Cowboys — in which he was held without a first-half reception.

Coincidentally, the Commanders travel to face the Cowboys this weekend. McLaurin will likely be matched up against Trevon Diggs, a physical cornerback who has a history of trash-talking with the wideout. 

McLaurin said he hopes he to get one-on-one looks against Diggs. But even if that happens, he’ll still need his quarterback to get him the ball.

Wentz, the high-priced trade addition who replaced Heinicke as the starter under center, has targeted McLaurin 21 times in 2022 — only six of which occurred in the first two quarters.

“I don’t think it’s anything that we want to panic about or force the issue on,” Wentz said, “because I know he’ll get his.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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