Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Despite starting out 2-6, the New York Giants still have plenty to play for over the second half of the 2019  season.

Jason Leach

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Now that the NFL trade deadline has come and gone, the New York Giants and head coach Pat Shurmur must focus on improving in the second half of the season.

With little hope of making the playoffs or having a winning season, many would think a team has nothing to play for. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a competitor, there’s always pride on the line and wanting to beat the man lined up in front of you. In addition, building a culture to last for years to come remains a critical objective. That’s what the focus needs to be in the second half of the season.

The Giants have one of the youngest rosters in the league, as Shurmur and the rest of the coaching staff need to focus on developing these players. That way, there could be a lot to look forward to in 2020.

That being said, here’s what to watch for the Giants in the second half of the 2019 season.

Can Daniel Jones fix his turnover woes?

While rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has shown several positives, such as his accuracy and mobility, he’s been turnover-prone. So far this season, he’s turned the ball over 13 times (seven interceptions and six fumbles lost). You expect a rookie quarterback to make mistakes, but 13 turnovers in six starts is an alarming rate.

Jones must improve at feeling pressure in the pocket and learning the right time to fit a pass into a tight window. The development of Jones is the biggest priority for Big Blue in the second half.

How will Leonard Williams fit into the defensive rotation?

In a surprising move on Monday, the Giants traded a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 fifth-round pick for New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams. In his 4.5 seasons with Gang Green, the former No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft has recorded 240 tackles and 17 sacks.

To this point in his career, it’s safe to say he hasn’t lived up to what was expected of him coming out of USC. Perhaps the Giants will be able to maximize his potential.

The Giants starting defensive line group of Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill and rookie Dexter Lawrence deploy a similar skillset to Williams. It’ll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator James Bettcher implements Williams into the rotation and how productive he can be.

By giving up two drafts picks, the Giants obviously plan on re-signing Williams in the offseason. Therefore, he figures to play a huge role in the final eight games of the season and replace one of the current starters.

Can James Bettcher fix the secondary’s woes?

To say the Giants have struggled in defending the pass would be a huge understatement. They’ve had blown assignments and miscommunications. As a result, they’re giving up 264.4 passing yards-per-game and have allowed five different quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards.

It was expected the Giants would have some communication issues to start the season. This is due to the fact that they have three new starters from 2018. However, no one could envision that after eight games, their play and communication would be this poor.

Rookie DeAndre Baker has made steady improvements, but now it’s time to give the other young players in the secondary some playing time. This includes Corey Ballentine, Julian Love and a healthy Sam Beal. The Giants want these young individuals to receive valuable playing experience.

Is Darius Slayton the real deal?

It appears the Giants may have gotten one of the steals in the draft when they selected wideout Darius Slayton with the No. 171 overall pick. After dealing with a nagging hamstring injury to start the season, Slayton has appeared in six games. Over that time, he’s caught 16 balls for 267 yards and three touchdowns. His 16.7 yards-per-catch leads the team.

Due to Slayton’s production and the lingering concerns over Sterling Shepard‘s health, the rookie should see a ton of action in the second half of the season. This will come with a chance to prove that he deserves to be a starter.

Will Pat Shurmur lose the locker room?

In his 1.5 seasons as Giants head coach, Pat Shurmur‘s record stands at 7-17. His career record sits at 17-40. However, despite all of that, it doesn’t appear at this point that he’s lost the locker room.

Sometimes, when a team is out of playoff contention, they can mail it in and just wait for the campaign to end. But last season, when the Giants started 1-7, they fought hard for both themselves and their coach and finished the second half of the season 4-4. This showed that Shurmur still had the command and focus of his players. But, will they show that same fight again?

If the team goes 4-4 in the second half again, this time with a rookie quarterback, it’ll at least show the team is making progress. This will give fans a reason to be optimistic for the 2020 season. But, if Shurmur loses the locker room and they have, say, a 2-6 record over the second half of the season, the veteran head coach could be on his way out.

Jason's first love was football while growing up in northern New Jersey. For the past three years, he has covered the New York Giants, as well as several boxing events along the East Coast.