ASHBURN — Looking at the scoring over the weekend, there’s nothing to suggest that the Washington commanders are out of sync when taking advantage of a talent like Terry McLaughlin. After all, the wide receiver caught six passes for 102 yards.
But statistics can be deceiving.
In Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, McLaughlin didn’t make his first catch until 7:01 of the third quarter. Sunday’s loss marked the most recent, wideout production that occurred mostly in the second half of the year.
Only one of McLaughlin’s 12 catches this season has come before halftime. Washington’s inability to get its top playmaker involved earlier underscores the difficulty the offense has experienced during a slow start this year.
McLaughlin isn’t the type to openly complain about his touch, but the lack of goals in the first half caught his eye.
“You do want to get involved early,” said McLaughlin, who ranks 15th in the league in receiving yards with 235 this season.
McLaughlin’s only catch in the first half of the season was lackluster. In Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 27-year-old started the second quarter with a 9-yard short pass. McLaughlin’s next catch — a timely 49-yard touchdown — didn’t come until 9:43 left in the fourth quarter. Between the two, he was only targeted once.
At the time, players and coaches were mostly dismissive of McLaughlin’s slow start. On the one hand, Washington beat Jacksonville, so the victory helps mask any problems. Against the Jaguars, offensive coordinator Scott Turner tailored a game plan early on for Curtis Samuel — the wide receiver who played only five games last year due to injury. The strategy worked because Samuel (15 touches for 72 yards from scrimmage) was productive. Victory is victory, as the saying goes.
But the commander didn’t win the last two games. They seem to realize there is a problem at hand.
McLaughlin said Turner met with him before Wednesday’s practice to address the lack of early contact. But interestingly, the wide receiver did not indicate that the ball was going in his direction. He said Turner conveyed to him that the team has a variety of playmakers and that they also need to establish a starting position.
“Personally, I feel like every receiver wants the ball as much as (probably),” McLaughlin said. “That includes myself. But at the same time, I really care about winning. … My mentality is not focused on the number of times I get the ball or the number of times I ask for it.”
McLaughlin, who ended consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and signed a three-year, $71 million extension in the offseason, said he didn’t necessarily notice any additional focus on defense this year, which led to the Lack of first half production. While Washington has other weapons like Samuel and rookie Jahan Dotson, the defense has to take that into account.
Coach Ron Rivera showed frustration at times when asked about McLaughlin’s involvement. He said there were some games where McLaughlin should have been the first choice, but the wing was either covered or quarterback Carson Wentz decided to throw the ball elsewhere. Rivera noted that McLaughlin had an opportunity as the game went on, in part because opposing defenses began to adjust elsewhere.
There’s no question, though, that there’s a marked difference in the way McLaughlin has been targeted this season. Last year, with quarterback Taylor Heinicke pulling the trigger, nearly half of McLaughlin’s goals — 64 of 130 — occurred in the first two quarters, which resulted in more than half of his catches (of 77). 42 times). McLaughlin played just three games — against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1, and against the Dallas Cowboys in Weeks 14 and 16 — and held the games without a reception in the first half.
Coincidentally, the commanders traveled to face the Cowboys this weekend. McLaughlin will likely be up against Trevon Diggs, an athletic cornerback with a history of trash-talking the perimeter.
McLaughlin said he wished he could play Diggs one-on-one. But even if that happens, he still needs his quarterback to catch the ball.
Wentz, a big-money addition to replacing Hynek as the starting center, has 21 hits on McLaughlin in 2022 — just six of them in the first two quarters.
“I don’t think it’s anything we want to panic or force a problem with,” Wentz said, “because I know he’s going to get him.”