HOUSTON This was supposed to be the year the Houston Texans got over the hump and maybe even into the playoffs.
The team that was a model of steady improvement in its first three seasons has now stumbled to its worst start in franchise history and the NFL's lone winless record. The offensive coordinator has been fired, and the defense can't come up with a turnover.
Quarterback David Carr has been sacked more than he was through four games as a rookie. Things have gotten so bad that he can recite all the ways he's learned to lessen the blow of a sack.
But Carr struggles to find a good reason why the Texans can't get it together.
''Sometimes you go in and you think you're going to improve and you think all these things are going to happen, but then you got to realize the other teams are improving too,'' Carr said. ''We just haven't caught any breaks.''
The Texans are last in the NFL in total offense (213 yards per game) and points (11). They've managed just one touchdown in each outing this season.
Carr has been sacked 27 times, bringing his career total to 167. If things don't improve, he's on pace to break his NFL season record of being sacked 76 times by more than 30.
''It's definitely a lot,'' Carr said. ''Too many, which is frustrating. Whoever's fault it is, we've got to fix it.''
Coach Dom Capers has repeatedly said the sacks are not entirely the fault of the line, but he is experimenting with some different combinations this week. Rookie Drew Hodgdon, who's been inactive for every game this season, could start at center as Capers considers shuffling the rest of the line.
''We've got to protect better,'' Capers said.
Carr is taking the brunt of his beatings when Houston is in third-and-long situations. Houston was 0-for-13 on third downs against Tennessee.
''When we get in obvious passing situations, that's where it's the hardest for us,'' Carr said. ''When we can stay in normal down and distances in run and play action, we're fine. If we have to drop back and pass, we're not good enough to do that right now.''
Capers fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer after two games and replaced him with line coach Joe Pendry. So far, it hasn't made much of a difference.
Carr said it is a ''lonely feeling'' to be the only winless team and that he's looking for the day when the offense ''looks like we know what we're doing.''
Fans who saw Houston improve from four wins in their first season to five in 2003 and seven last year had high hopes for this season. Now, they're getting antsy, and the heat is on Capers, who was fired after his fourth season at Carolina.
''You can't get caught up in all the peripheral things,'' he said. ''Everybody is going to have opinions. There's going to be times when things go against you and you just have to work through it.''
Capers believes the team's problems are ''very obvious and very correctable.''
Not only do the Texans lead the league in sacks allowed, they have the only defense that has yet to force a turnover. Houston has a turnover margin of minus-8.
Veteran free safety Marcus Coleman, who's been with the team since its inception, thinks it's time to be more aggressive defensively.
''There's nothing left to hold back,'' he said. ''Anything that we have left in the bag we need to pull it out and take some chances.''
Coleman called Capers a conservative coach, and while he understands his style, he feels now's the time to go all out.
Capers and general manager Charley Casserly revamped the defense this offseason in an effort to make it younger and faster. They accomplished that goal, but so far, the unit hasn't been better.
Highly touted offseason acquisition Phillip Buchanon was benched as starting cornerback after just two games for poor play, as was former first-round pick Jason Babin.
Houston has had to start 2005 first-round pick Travis Johnson at defensive end the last two games while veteran Gary Walker nurses a shoulder sprain.
The Texans defense is 25th in the league, allowing 342.6 yards per game. Houston also hasn't generated a pass rush, with just four sacks this season.
''We're just not doing what we should be doing right now,'' Coleman said. ''We are regressing a little bit from what we've done in the past, and you just got to find a way to dig yourself out of the hole.''
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