I think we do know what Ryan has for guts. The questions you raise about Matt Ryan that you perceive as unanswered, I think are for the most part answered. Matt Ryan has started 62 games in this league. There isn't a lot he hasn't shown us.
I think he's shown us that he's a guy that can get rattled if you get after him early. So it's important that he needs a better O-line than say someone like a Roethlisberger or Cam Newton who can create more with his legs.
He's shown us that when he came into the league, he was capable at throwing down the field at a point in his career when he had minimal coaching. And thus it makes it seem that his regression in that area has come from the conservative nature of coaching that he's got in the ensuing three years which has changed the "natural" way he was throwing the ball downfield. And thus, I think bad coaching has a lot to do with how poor he's become throwing the deep ball, and it's going to take better coaching to revert him back to his natural level.
I think he's shown that despite that issue, he's a fairly accurate passer within 20 yards. And he's shown that he's got a quick trigger and can get the ball out to avoid sacks. He's also shown that he's a good decision maker that almost never makes bone-headed decisions.
He's shown that when he reaches a point when he can trust his receivers and build a rapport with them, they can become better. As he's shown even with those of lesser talent such as Finneran, Douglas, and Jenkins, which is in stark contrast to the Falcons previous QB.
With many of those things in mind, he has a conservative streak. He'll make the smart play as opposed to the big play. Meaning you're not going to see many throws like this from him:http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-fantasy/0 ... 39-yd-passhttp://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss ... -the-catchhttp://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-high ... yard-catch
It's not to say he can't make those throws, but they will be very rare occurrences with Ryan, not to mention it's doubtful that with a coach as conservative as Mike Smith, he would ever have a playcall that would require such a throw.
And because of Ryan's lack of a big play ability so to speak, he's going to need a bit more additional support from a running game than say another QB with better physical tools and more of a gunslinger mentality (e.g. RG3).
Now, the only real remaining question in my eyes is can/will he improve as a deep ball passer. I think he can
, because he's already shown he can be good in that realm (see 2008 season). I think the question of will he, has just as much to do with the coaching staff as it does with Ryan. Because I believe in an environment that fosters a "go-getter" mentality, challenging the defense, and being more aggressive offensively like the Saints/Packers, would allow Ryan to rise to that challenge because i believe another thing he's shown over the years is that he is capable of rising to the challenge when given the support to do so, evidenced by his 4th quarter comebacks, which he has more of than any other QB post-merger through the first 4 years of his career:http://www.pro-football-reference.com/p ... i?id=tgzW4
And knowing all that about Matt Ryan, if you can't even win a playoff game with that as your QB, then I think you're doing something wrong as a head coach.
It's similar to Carson Palmer. People will look back at Palmer's career, and IMHO misevaluate him because of the lack of accomplishments. Because in the eyes of the majority of football fans, they see accomplishments (how many Pro Bowls, MVPS, playoff games won, etc.) as the end all-be all of QBs rather than simply ability. And while accomplishments are an expression of ability, they aren't the end all-be all.
I think Carson Palmer had the potential for greatness, but I think several major injuries, poor management by the Bengals front office, and mediocre coaching really threw that potential right out the window. I think Cincinnati failed Palmer, not the other way around.
And I think we're on the verge of that here in Atlanta, that if certain goals aren't accomplished (such as winning a playoff game), then the popular perception is going to be Matt Ryan failed us, and I don't think that should be the case at all.
Because of Ryan's lack of elite physical tools, and some questionable performances in big games, he doesn't have what it takes to be great. I disagree. But greatness doesn't appear out of thin air, that's what I mean it doesn't come from the aether. There's a structure around these guys that is built to achieve said greatness and allow it to flourish.
The Falcons did what I'm talking about once IMO, and it proved to be highly successful. The 2010 Ravens game. And if they did what they did in that game on a weekly basis, then I think this team has the potential that within a few years with a few more pieces, they could be as good as any offense in the league.