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.
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.