Terry McLaurin has been Washington's best offensive player for the last three seasons, but his recent involvement reads more like that of a rotational receiver. Over the past month, McLaurin's been targeted five, three, four and six times.
His offensive coordinator, Scott Turner, knows that's a problem.
"I have to do a better job of finding ways to get Terry the ball," Turner told reporters in a Thursday press conference.
McLaurin's usage has been a hot topic surrounding what's become a cold, Turner-led unit, as he hasn't topped 51 receiving yards since Week 11, which is also the last time he reached the end zone.
Fortunately, when the franchise drafted McLaurin back in 2019, it lucked into finding the rare wideout who won't complain when his numbers wane. On Wednesday, McLaurin touched on the uniqueness of his job and why he doesn't cause a scene when he's not featured like other stars around the NFL.
"You depend on a lot of things to go right for a big play or a big day," he said about his spot on the field.
Washington's first offensive snap against the Cowboys this past Sunday — which came before that tilt transitioned into a travesty — was a tremendous illustration of that.
Turner, knowing McLaurin had been underutilized of late, called for a deep shot for No. 17 down the right sideline to open up the contest. Standout Dallas corner Trevon Diggs was on an island with McLaurin, and even though he was playing soft coverage, McLaurin found a way to get a step on him and create a solid window for Taylor Heinicke to throw into.
Unfortunately, Heinicke's toss was too flat and far too inside when it needed to be out toward the boundary. The result was a Diggs interception and yet another pass that didn't wind up in McLaurin's hands.
"He sees that there's some plays where we're trying to get him the ball," Turner said. "He knows how we feel about him as offensive staff, how I feel about him."
Even so, Turner simply has to carve out a section of his playbook for calls that are guaranteed to make use of McLaurin's skills. Those feelings can only do so much.
Yes, everyone knows what Turner's had to deal with at quarterback — Washington had to start Garrett "I was with the Patriots and now I'm here?" Gilbert just a handful of days ago — how Curtis Samuel's injury has prevented him from emerging as McLaurin's sidekick and the other issues the coordinator has juggled in 2021. He hasn't just been dealt an unfair hand; his hand is missing a card.
But the truth is that there are still ways — quicker-than-quick slants, shifting McLaurin to the slot or even giving him a jet-sweep handoff — to feed the 26-year-old regardless of what's happening with the other 21 players during that sequence. Turner has to accept that challenge despite his group's limitations and the team's opponents understanding McLaurin's importance.
As for McLaurin, he was granted a couple of chances in his time with the media Wednesday to air the slightest of grievances with his present role and how it's changed from the first portion of the campaign when he was more of a focal point.
He responded by explaining why he's not interested in doing so.
"As I've grown over my career, I've just really learned to control the things that I can control: My effort, the way I prepare each and every week for the opponent, the opportunities I do get — whether it's 10 or three or two, however many it is — just being ready for those opportunities is my main focus," he said.
"When you're focused on the other things that you can't control, then the things that you can control may slip."
"He is the ultimate pro," is how Ron Rivera described McLaurin this week.
Those types of compliments are absolutely valid; McLaurin really has been a model citizen since joining Washington via the draft.
Also, as beloved as McLaurin is, he's not unassailable. He can be more available at times against elite corners and, as odd as it is to claim for a threat as dominant as he is in 50-50 battles, he's let a few catchable balls fall incomplete this season.
But, again, it all comes back to this: While people are rightfully praising McLaurin for how well he's handled this disappointing stretch, it'd be a hell of a lot more fun to be praising him for posting the gaudy stats he's capable of putting up.
McLaurin will tell you that's his responsibility, yet Washington must prioritize it immediately, too — circumstances be damned.