In his one public interview this week, Jason Garrett avoided saying much about his return to Dallas.
He noted that in just about every game there are players and coaches who spent time with the opposing team in some fashion or another and simply expressed his gratitude for his time as coach of the Cowboys.
"It was a great time in my life, I’m forever appreciative of that," he said. "The biggest thing we’re all focused on is what we can do to help the New York Giants play as well as we can play."
Part of that means understanding and talking about the Cowboys. A lot. And it is why Garrett may have sidestepped discussing the emotional and dramatic elements of going up against a team that canned him just a few months ago when talking to the media on Thursday, but has been spouting off as much as he can about the players they are about to face behind closed doors.
Garrett is the most popular person in the Giants’ facility this week.
Just about everyone — coaches and players, from every aspect of the game — has been knocking on his door or sidling up to him in the hallway trying to pick his brain about a team that he has a unique familiarity with.
"I’ll be talking to Jason a little bit more and will continue to do that," safety Logan Ryan said. "Any hint and tip I can get, I’m one known to take it and see if it applies. I definitely will be asking him, buying him some lunch this week. Maybe dinner. We’ll be staying late."
How much can that info help?
"A ton," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. "That’s the simple answer."
So Graham has been peppering Garrett — and former Cowboys offensive line coach Marc Colombo who is now on the Giants’ staff — with his own queries. Not so much about their playbook, which has changed in Garrett’s absence, but about the makeup of the players.
"It’s a people game," Graham said. "The Xs and Os, everybody’s got that. Everybody can look at the tape and say ‘So-and-so is blocking this guy, so-and-so is doing this, he passes to this guy.’ But it’s about the people. What affects this receiver? You got some insight there? That’s what I’m more interested in. What affects this receiver? What affects this offensive lineman? What are his weaknesses? Mentally, what is his makeup? Can he handle if we put three guys over the top of him and then spin them out of there or something like that? Or if we press right here, is that going to affect him. Those are the questions I want to get answers to. And they have the insight. It’s a people game and they know the people and the game intimately so we’re able to get some information there."
It is true that homecomings — bitter or sweet — happen just about every week in the NFL. There are a few this week that don’t include Garrett. Graham coached under Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, so those two know each other. Heck, McCarthy interviewed for the Giants’ job before he was hired in Dallas and the Giants went with Joe Judge.
"Everyone has worked in different places, everyone has played different places, everyone has a lot of shared experiences," Judge said. "The NFL, you can say it’s a copycat league, you can say it’s a transient league in terms of guys crossing over and carrying over experiences from different places. It’s no different this week with having guys who were on previous staffs.
"The Cowboys are not the same team they were last year, there are different styles of their offense, different curves on what they are doing offensively and defensively," Judge added. "There are similarities from what our staff has experienced, but it’s definitely a new opponent."
Still, Garrett’s knowledge of what makes the players tick — and more important what makes them crumble — will be sprinkled through every part of the game plan.
"If there is a resource in the building you certainly want to take advantage of it," Garrett said. "My experience has been that most players and coaches through the years have been generous with that knowledge. I don’t think it should be overused. The process we go through each week in understanding who the opponent is and what we want to do is the best process, but any time you have a resource you can use in the building, I think it can be helpful for everybody."
This week, that resource is Garrett.