The 2020 season is here, and we have you covered as the Washington Football Team progresses through its inaugural campaign under head coach Ron Rivera.
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Terry McLaurin has emerged as Washington's best offensive weapon and one of the NFL's most exciting young wide receivers. His talent has earned him league-wide notoriety, and with that comes more attention from defensive backs.
"That is the challenge. Last year he didn't have any of that," wide receivers coach Jim Hostler said Aug. 6. "It's the pressure of being a No. 1 guy."
In the first two weeks of the season, McLaurin matched up against the Philadelphia Eagles' and Arizona Cardinals' best cornerbacks in Darius Slay and Patrick Peterson. On Sunday, there's a chance he'll see Denzel Ward, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft
McLaurin said there isn't any added motivation in playing his former Ohio State teammate. To him, it's just a fun matchup against another quality cornerback.
"I know week in and week out I'm going to see the best corners for those respective teams, and I invite that challenge."
Washington's season opener was the second time McLaurin had played against Slay. In their first matchup, when Slay was playing for the Detroit Lions, McLaurin grabbed five receptions for 72 yards. McLaurin's performance had a lasting impression on Slay, who said on his Instagram feed in March that Washington "stole one from Ohio State."
"To be honest, that whole year, besides Keenan Allen, he was my hardest one that I covered that whole year. That boy was fast and so quick. He probably would have scored on me two times."
Slay moved around the field during Washington's 27-17 win over the Eagles, but he did cover the second-year receiver on five of his seven targets. McLaurin ultimately won more matchups, as he made three receptions for 31 yards against Slay. On one of McLaurin's biggest gains, he shrugged off Slay's tackle after the catch and went down for a 21-yard gain.
"Going against a guy like Darius Slay, you know he's going to be very patient, you know he's going to be disciplined in his technique," McLaurin said before the season opener. "That's what makes him so good, so from my standpoint, I've just got to make sure I'm being as efficient as possible with the way I run my routes and my releases and the top ends of my routes and things like that. Just try to make plays when they come."
One week later, McLaurin was lining up against Peterson -- an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time first team All-Pro. Rather than defending different receivers like Slay, Peterson followed McLaurin around for most of the game.
Mclaurin finished the game with seven receptions for 124 yards -- the fourth time he has eclipsed 100 yards in his career -- and a touchdown. Against Peterson, he made four receptions on six targets for 60 yards. His touchdown also came against Peterson; he took advantage of Peterson's soft coverage, ran a slant route and sprinted into the end zone for the 24-yard score.
"We had such a big lead that it was just to keep him in front and not give him anything easy," Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the game. "He still found a way to make some incredible plays and the big touchdown at the end. He's a tremendous competitor and player. I knew how good he was, but regardless of the score, he was out there playing his tail off. He's going to be one of the bright stars in the league moving forward."
Ward did not practice Friday and was listed as questionable on Cleveland's final injury report. He has allowed seven completions on 13 targets for 40 yards and a touchdown. He has a Pro Football Focus overall grade of 71.2, and quarterbacks have a QBR of 72.6 when throwing in his direction, which is the second-best on the team.
"Coming from Ohio State, I've had a lot of battles with Denzel," McLaurin said. "He's a down to earth guy, he's a really hard worker and he's a competitor, so I know what I'm getting myself into."
If Ward does play, McLaurin knows it's going to be "a four-quarter battle."
"I'm gonna try to make as many plays as possible and see if we can get out with a win."
-- Ron Rivera explains when position flexibility became so important to him: Head coach Ron Rivera has spoken multiple times on the importance of position flexibility. He received first-hand lessons on its significance when he was the San Diego Chargers' defensive coordinator. He once had a player who he said could play every position on the front seven except for nose tackle, and in one particular game, someone who primarily played right tackle was able to step in at right guard. Rivera said that was a big factor in winning the game.
It was those moments that made him realize how vital having players who are comfortable performing in multiple positions can be.
"You have a guy that can play more than one spot, and all of sudden one or two guys go down, you can plug that guy in. …That's kind of how I came about it. It's just one of those things that you see guys that can play more than one position -- they have value because of that situation."
-- Steve Russ has a simple plan for Cleveland's running backs: The Browns own one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL through two weeks. They average 176.5 rushing yards per game, and their two running backs -- Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt -- and fifth and tied for ninth in rushing yards, respectively. Washington linebackers coach Steve Russ said the duo loves contact and hits rushing holes quickly. So, he has a solution for stopping them: get downhill and hit them.
"You've got to be able to throw your uppercuts, roll your hips and you've got to be able to run your feet on contact. ...We've got to do a great job of making sure when we make contact, we're doing it on our terms. We want to be able to get these guys thick. You hit them on the edges and they're going to get a lot of leaky yards. We've got to be able to employ our power. Like I said, roll our hips by throwing our uppercuts and—again—running your feet on contact is going to be key with these guys because they don't like to go down on first hits."
-- Kamren Curl had to make the most of training camp as a seventh-round pick: Safety Kamren Curl was Washington's next-to-last draft pick in April when selected him No. 216 overall in the seventh-round, but he made one of the biggest splashes in training camp with three interceptions. With only two weeks of padded practices before the regular season, Curl said he had to make the most of his opportunities and learn not to make the same mistakes twice.
"A seventh-round pick, that's not far from being undrafted, so you're gonna have the harder route. So I just went out there, tried to give 100% every day and get better every day. …It was pressure to just try and make an impact."
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Check out the injury report for Washington's game against Cleveland, HERE.