AFC South: 2013 Week 6 STL at HOU

DeAndre HopkinsThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsDeAndre Hopkins and the Texans dug themselves into a hole they couldn't escape against the Rams.
HOUSTON -- One word hung in the air in the Houston Texans' locker room and persisted for a lack of response.


Why is this team that began the season with Super Bowl aspirations struggling like it is?

Why is a defense that leads the NFL in yards allowed and passing yards allowed struggling so much in the red zone?

Why are the players committing so many penalties?

Why can't the offense score in the red zone?

Why is the return game such a mess?

"We’ve kind of been in this trend of getting down fast and early and by a lot," inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. "We’ve got to figure out how to stop it."

Any idea why?

"No, and I think that's what's mostly frustrating right now," Cushing said. "Kind of leaves us scratching our heads to understand why. It's very frustrating. I don't know. We've got to continue to work, watch the film and understand what we're doing."

Cushing said that just as quickly as things can go bad they can flip around and go back to being good. But the key to making that flip is understanding why.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yates
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesT.J. Yates threw an interception that was returned 98 yards for a score, making it the fifth game in a row a Texans quarterback has thrown a pick-six.
Six weeks into a season in which the Texans find themselves in third place in a division they were supposed to own, nobody seems to know.

This was supposed to be the week things were righted with the Texans facing a presumably weaker opponent than any of the teams they faced during their three-game losing streak. The Rams struggled against the bottom-feeding Jacksonville Jaguars (then again, so did the hottest team in the NFL this week). The Rams ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per play and 28th in passing yards allowed per play. Overall their defense ranked 23rd. The Texans defense ranked first.

This week was supposed to be a referendum on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who was benched in San Francisco after throwing three interceptions against the 49ers.

But against the Rams, it wasn't Schaub that did in the Texans. It was nearly everything else.

"For the past few weeks, the finger has been pointed in one direction a lot," said coach Gary Kubiak, the man most responsible for figuring out why. "But we sprung leaks all over the place today as a football team. We got our butt kicked as a football team."

The Texans were manhandled Sunday and lost 38-13.

"It was just a complete meltdown in all phases," left tackle Duane Brown said. "We had some good things that happened but they were completely overshadowed by mistakes. Mistakes that we cannot make as a football team. As a veteran football team, you have to be disciplined, and we were not."

The first of a plethora of penalties began early. Encroachment on J.J. Watt on the Rams' first drive. A face mask penalty on Brown on the Texans' first drive. And cornerback Kareem Jackson, who said after the game he thought he did everything right, was hit with a pass interference penalty that gifted the Rams 40 yards on their second drive. That one ended in a 2-yard touchdown pass that put the Rams up 7-0.

Schaub then led the Texans into the red zone with a drive that included passes of 22, 10, 19 and 12 yards. The 12-yard pass preceded an uncharacteristic error from rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who, sandwiched between Rams defenders, lost the football as he fell to the ground. James Laurinaitis returned the fumble 43 yards.

Shortly thereafter the Texans were down two scores.

By the time the penalties ceased, it was too late. The offense stalled in the third quarter, the defense allowed another 80-yard drive and then a special-teams disaster struck. Returner Keshawn Martin got hit by Rodney McLeod and the ball popped from his grasp, leading to another touchdown. Martin was back for a return because safety Danieal Manning, who had replaced Martin on kickoff returns, was injured. But Manning, too, fumbled a kickoff earlier.

By the time Schaub left the game with an ankle injury, he left his backup T.J. Yates with a deficit he hadn't created, after four consecutive weeks of throwing a pick-six. Then Yates, with an earnest effort to reverse the Texans' fortunes, threw an interception that was returned 98 yards for a score.

"When you come into the game, you’re down by 30, everybody in the building knows we’re going to pass the ball -- especially them," Yates said. "You just gotta be smarter with the ball. Tried to force it in there a little bit, which is something I can’t do."

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that play made the Texans the first team in NFL history to have pick-six interceptions in five consecutive games.

Schaub did recover from a dreadful performance in San Francisco, but on Sunday afternoon it didn't matter.

It's still early enough in the season that it's possible the team recovers. It won't do it, though, without answering why.

Locker Room Buzz: Houston Texans

October, 13, 2013
HOUSTON -- Observed in the locker room after the Houston Texans' 38-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

More tests for Schaub: While reporters spoke to backup quarterback T.J. Yates about, among other things, his anger at hearing fans cheer the injury to quarterback Matt Schaub, Schaub walked out of the locker room barefoot and left to get more tests done on his leg. He did not return and was unavailable to reporters. Schaub appeared to roll his ankle late in the third quarter when he was sacked by Rams defensive end Chris Long. Coach Gary Kubiak said he had "a little bit of everything on that one leg."

Watt not admitting defeat: Defensive end J.J. Watt held court in the middle of the locker room and, after about five minutes of queries, was asked by one reporter if the playoffs and Super Bowl were still a possibility for the Texans. "I mean, we're not mathematically out of it, are we?" he said curtly. "I didn't think so."

Jackson confused by penalty: Cornerback Kareem Jackson remained confused after the game about a 40-yard pass-interference penalty called on him. He said he relied on his technique and did exactly what he was supposed to do.

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

October, 13, 2013

HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Houston Texans' 38-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

What it means: You could explain away losses to the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and even Baltimore Ravens as coming against strong and talented opponents. But a sloppy blowout loss to the Rams showed the Texans aren't anywhere close to the team many, including myself, expected them to be when the season began. Can't pin this one on embattled quarterback Matt Schaub, either. The Texans weren't good enough in any phase of the game.

Stock watch: Backup quarterback T.J. Yates' stock rose sharply as Schaub struggled into dubious history with his trend of pick-sixes. But against the Rams, the Texans had to insert Yates when Schaub went out with an ankle injury after a sack and the result wasn't better. At the time the Texans trailed 31-6, which didn't exactly give Yates much to work with. Still, he threw a 98-yard pick-six to end one drive and then threw another interception in the end zone on the next drive.

Sloppiness invades: The Texans' turnover ratio continued to take a hit on Sunday as they fumbled twice. First, on a first-quarter drive when rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins was stripped as he hit the ground. Then in the third quarter, second-year receiver Keshawn Martin was stripped as he returned a kickoff. The ball popped out and into the arms of linebacker Daren Bates who ran it in for a score. The Texans also committed seven penalties for 95 yards in the first half alone.

One thing worked: Running back Arian Foster ran hard and smart throughout the game. He gained 141 yards on 20 carries and crossed the 5,000-yard threshold for his career. At halftime, Foster had gained 98 of those yards on just 10 carries.

What's next: The Texans have a lot of mistakes to fix. They'll play the Chiefs in Kansas City next weekend.