HOUSTON – The offensive line collapsed, the secondary struggled again, two drives stalled inside the 10-yard line. There were penalties, turnovers and an injury to the star player.
The Houston Texans flopped on Sunday in what could've been a defining game in their history. Instead of celebrating their first 3-0 start, the Texans were reminded just how far they still have to go in a stinging 27-13 loss to Dallas.
Matt Schaub was sacked four times, Tony Romo beat Houston's suspect cornerbacks on two touchdown passes to Roy Williams and the Texans' high-scoring offense didn't score a touchdown until the final two minutes.
Coach Gary Kubiak ripped his team in a meeting on Monday, and spared no one.
"We didn't play good enough up front, defensively, where do you want me to go? We didn't play good enough as a team," he said. "I was more concerned with some details, and some things we teach on this team that we ask people to do on a regular basis. We get it done a great deal of the time. Every now and then, we choose not to do it. I didn't like how we chose not to do some of things."
The most glaring deficiency is the pass defense, a major concern for Kubiak before the season began.
The Texans are one of three teams still without an interception and are allowing a league-worst 369 yards passing per game. Romo threw for 284 yards after Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb both topped 400 yards passing against Houston.
Kubiak knew he was gambling when he selected first-round draft pick Kareem Jackson and second-year pro Glover Quin as his starting cornerbacks over veterans Jacques Reeves, Fred Bennett and Antwaun Molden. Brice McCain, also in his second season, is seeing action in certain coverages and was beaten on Williams' first TD catch on Sunday.
After three games, Kubiak isn't cutting the cornerbacks any slack.
"There has been a lot of talk about the young guys we're playing," Kubiak said. "They're veterans now. They've been out there three times in the regular season. This is our group. This is the group we're going with. I expect us to play better than that."
Williams darted past Jackson for a 63-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Jackson said Monday that he's made technique mistakes that can be easily corrected.
"All the things I've got beaten on are little things that I've done wrong," Jackson said. "You've got to be able to take constructive criticism. You've got to go out and fix the problem, and that's what we're going to do."
Houston's pass rush was another weak spot on Sunday.
The Texans did not sack Romo after getting five in the first two games, four by defensive end Mario Williams. The Cowboys bottled up Mario Williams, and no other Texans player up front has generated much of a rush. The defense will get a boost starting next week, when linebacker Brian Cushing returns from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's banned substance policy.
The Texans (2-1) play at Oakland (1-2) next Sunday.
In 2009, Houston's defense ranked as one of the league's worst after the first three games of the season. The Texans acquired hard-hitting safety Bernard Pollard before the fourth game — also against Oakland — and the defense ranked as one of the league's best over the final 13 games, allowing 19 points and 84.3 yards rushing per game.
Pollard said the Texans only need to increase their discipline to spur a similar turnaround this season.
"We're going to make some adjustments, we're going to be better," Pollard said. "Guys are trying to do their own thing, and we can't do that. Some way, somehow, we lose sight of what's been coached all week. These are things we have to fix in order for us to be better."
The offensive line also needs shoring up, especially on pass protection. Schaub has been sacked 11 times, second highest in the league behind Philadelphia.
Rashad Butler made his first start Sunday in place of left tackle Duane Brown, who began serving his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's banned substance policy. Right tackle Eric Winston said the entire front bears the blame for the pressure on Schaub on Sunday.
"I've heard that it was this guy or that guy," Winston said. "I don't buy that stuff. We take it upon ourselves up front, that we're going to be the guys that protect. If he (Schaub) needs to hold it for five or seven or 10 seconds, then that's what he needs to do, and we need to get them blocked."