EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mention New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's name and it almost always elicits some kind of reaction. For Giants fans and anyone watching their offense, it has been mostly negative the past 14 months.
Garrett's offense struggled last season, ranking No. 31 in yards and points, and it spilled into the early part of this season when it looked awfully similar schematically to the 2020 version.
It put Garrett, the former Dallas Cowboys head coach, in a precarious position. He seemed closer to being unemployed than emerging this offseason as candidate for a second chance as a head coach.
"Stale" is how an NFL executive described Garrett's scheme recently to ESPN. Just another version of the outdated 1990s Dallas offense under Norv Turner, without an effective modern twist, the executive said.
Except things seemed different Sunday in a 27-21 overtime win against the New Orleans Saints. More run-pass options (RPOs), motion, an increased use of stacked wide receivers and generally more aggression. It is what fans and outsiders have been clamoring for as the Giants (1-3) prepare to face the Cowboys (3-1) on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) at AT&T Stadium.
Garrett seems to have made critical alterations just as the calls for him to be fired (likely falling on deaf ears) were gaining steam after an 0-3 start.
"The best game I've seen with him since he's been to the Giants," former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said this week.
Orlovsky specifically liked the marriage of plays, with the use of the zone-read and RPOs. It was something he hadn't seen from Garrett last season or early this season.
It allowed the Giants to make more plays downfield. They had eight plays of 20-plus yards against the Saints after only eight the first three games combined.
This plays into quarterback Daniel Jones' strengths. He has consistently thrown the deep ball well -- since he was drafted in 2019 he leads the NFL with nine "dime throws" (30-plus yards of air distance thrown into a window of less than 1 yard of separation) -- according to NFL Next Gen Stats. On Sunday, Jones threw for a career-best 402 yards, and on throws of at least 15 air yards he completed 8 of 11 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
All of which makes it obvious that deep passes need to be a staple of this offense.
"I do think they can be more vertical," said Matt Bowen of ESPN's NFL Matchup. "Right now, I would call them a short-term/intermediate-based pass game."
Bowen thinks Garrett's scheme fits their personnel. He would like to see more of a plan for rookie playmaker Kadarius Toney, whom he considers a matchup play. This means getting him going on manufactured touches to allow his elusiveness to flourish.
Now it's a matter of whether Sunday's sudden improvement from Garrett was a mirage prompted by an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit or a sign this offense is about to take off. It isn't encouraging that Garrett didn't see much difference in what the offense did the first three weeks compared to Sunday's win.
"I don't think anything we ran in the game is anything different, to be honest with you," Garrett said Thursday. "Sometimes you call those plays and the ball goes somewhere else for a variety of reasons. We had some opportunities. Start with the protection, hold the ball a little bit, drive the ball down the field a little bit more than the past. A tribute to those guys [the offensive line] going against a good front in a tough environment. I thought Daniel did a good job seeing things. I thought the guys did a good job ... just winning on routes and we were able to make some plays down the field."
Shepard and Slayton, dealing with hamstring injuries, could be back this week. No. 1 wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring, hip) and star running back Saquon Barkley (knee) are getting healthier. The Giants averaged 17.7 points over Garrett's first 19 games and injuries were a big reason why, but the excuses for failing to consistently put points on the board are disappearing.
Garrett does have one thing going for him that should provide job security: Jones is playing better. The Jones-Garrett relationship is strong, and you don't want a third offensive coordinator in three years for the young quarterback unless it's absolutely necessary. Especially when Jones is thriving.
"I've been impressed," Bowen said of the third-year quarterback. "He's seeing it. He's trusting it. And he's throwing the ball through his target. What that tells you is he feels pretty comfortable in the scheme."
Jones is completing 66.7% of his passes. He has thrown just one interception this season, and that came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half Sunday. His one lost fumble shows an improvement with his ball security.
The No. 6 overall pick from 2019 is a fan of his offensive coordinator and doesn't believe the recent criticism of Garrett for being too conservative or vanilla is justified.
"I certainly don't agree with it," Jones said. "When you watch the tape and you turn it on and you watch other offenses, I don't think that is a fair conclusion to draw from comparing different schemes.
"I think more than anything it has been about us executing it and taking advantage of some of the plays that have been there. I thought we did a better job on Sunday. So we have to continue to do that, but I think the opportunities have been there. The stuff we're doing on offense has kept defenses on their heels."
It could also keep Garrett off the hot seat.