Long, Laurinaitis, Bartell, Atogwe, and Hall have all received praise for their efforts this year, and deservedly so. But Craig Dahl has been a serious contributor to this defense this year. Corey Chavous seemed like a good guy, and probably was one of the more intelligent players in the NFL, but by the time he got to the Rams, he was just finished. Todd Johnson wasn't any better. Both of them reminded me of Jason Sehorn. But, Dahl has stepped up and been a great contributor this year, albeit quietly.
Quick, who led the Rams in tackles against the Panthers? If you guessed Dahl based on the first part of this article, you are correct. With 10 tackles, 7 solos, he led the Rams. While the stats list 0 tackles for loss, he had a couple that I remember for no gain, and were very close to being a tackle for loss. He had some great open field tackles. Tackles that strong safeties in years past would have missed. I do think that James Butler is better in pass coverage, but Dahl is such a solid tackler that he deserves to start.
When discussing the Rams turnaround this year, I think that Dahl is as important as anyone for two reasons; first, he legitimately has been a very good player for the Rams. Second, our strong safeties were so phenomenally bad that even average play would have been a great improvement. Fletcher has been solid this year, but just by being solid he has been a tremendous improvement over the garbage pile of CBs, who have lined up opposite of Bartell over the past couple years.
So, when giving credit for the defensive turnaround, remember that there may be no one more important for the change than #43.