Time and time again during his first three seasons in the NFL, Terry McLaurin has proven he's a true No. 1 wide receiver. Yet, over the past month or so, the Washington Football Team's offense has not utilized him as such.
In Washington's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday night, McLaurin was targeted just four times, finishing with two catches for 51 yards. Three other Washington players -- Antonio Gibson, Ricky Seals-Jones and Adam Humphries -- were looked at more often on Tuesday night than No. 17 was.
McLaurin is unquestionably Washington's best offensive threat, and head coach Ron Rivera knows the offense must get its top wideout more involved moving forward.
"Would I like to see Terry targeted a little bit more because of who he is? Yes," Rivera said on Wednesday.
Rivera was unable to pinpoint one specific reason when asked about McLaurin's lack of usage recently, saying Washington's quarterbacks would have a better answer.
"That in all honesty, you would have to ask the quarterbacks," Rivera said. "Because, again, you gotta understand every one of our routes, all of our offensive plays, all have specific starting points based on what the quarterbacks see."
Over the past three weeks, McLaurin has been targeted a total of just 12 times. He was held without a catch for the first time in his career in Week 14 against Dallas after being forced to leave the game early with a concussion. In total, McLaurin has registered just 73 yards during that three-week span and has not scored a touchdown over the past four games.
McLaurin has been Washington's clear-cut No. 1 receiver since his NFL debut. Even with additions to the receiver room this offseason, none of the Burgundy and Gold's other pass-catchers are capable of impacting a game the way McLaurin is. And, as a result, McLaurin has seen defenses constantly double- and triple-cover him over the past three seasons.
Tuesday's game against the Eagles was no different, as McLaurin was shadowed by Philadelphia's top cornerback Darius Slay. McLaurin got the better of Slay early, as he dusted past him for a 46-yard catch in the first quarter that ultimately led to a field goal.
"I just kind of lulled them to sleep a little bit and then just burst by him and Garrett [Gilbert] just did a good job of giving me a chance to make a play on the ball and I was able to come down with it," McLaurin said on that play. "So, it’s really cool to be able to connect down the field. ... I think that was a big play for us."
Yet, after that play, McLaurin was targeted just three more times throughout the evening. Two of those attempts came on deep passes similar to the one No. 17 was able to haul in early on, but they both were underthrown and pretty much uncatchable.
Although Washington was unable to connect on those deep shots, McLaurin thinks offensive coordinator Scott Turner needs to continue dialing them up and giving him chances to make a play.
"I think that’s something if we want to continue to take more steps, we have to continue to take those shots downfield and connect on them," McLaurin said.
McLaurin's situation isn't unique. There are several teams across the league that have one receiver that is a lot more talented than the rest.
What many of those teams with elite wideouts do, though, is force the ball to their top receiver. How? By creating formulations, using pre-snap motion and coming up with play calls that allow the quarterback to easily have a throwing lane to put the ball in his best receiver's hands.
Simply put, that's something Washington has not done much with McLaurin as of late. While Rivera feels the offense at times should force the ball to McLaurin, he understands why at some points Washington's quarterbacks don't want to do just that.
"If the quarterback sees something that he doesn't like, he's not gonna try and force it," Rivera said. "He's gonna try and do what's best."
McLaurin's success has translated to team success, too. The 26-year-old has topped 100 yards four times this year. Washington has won three of those games. In Washington's eight losses, only one time has McLaurin finished with more than 65 yards.
As of now, based on Rivera's comments, it doesn't seem like Washington is going to change its offensive approach to specifically focus on McLaurin getting the football more. But that needs to change, especially if Washington has any hope of making a playoff push this season.