By Jim Thomas

HOUSTON They are a team that doesn't seem to be playing with much confidence or intensity.

Following an embarrassing 38-28 loss to Arizona, they stand 4-6 and with next to no hope of making the playoffs. Another round of injuries has left them perilously thin in the secondary and the offensive line.

In a season of discord, featuring one controversy after another, there's a distinct possibility they will have a new coach next season - at least those players who will be back themselves in 2006.

No, it's not much fun being a Ram these days.

"Definitely, adversity has come our way," strong safety Adam Archuleta said. "We don't seem to be able to get over it. Sooner or later, you think you're going to look up and the clouds are going to part, and you're going to see that sunshine. So far, we haven't seen it."

The most puzzling thing is that this isn't 2002, when the Rams finished 7-9. Or 1998, when the club finished 4-12. The talent is better than that; the talent is good enough to be 10-6 or 11-5. But for a variety of reasons, it isn't happening for the 2005 Rams, who at the moment appear destined for only their second losing season since '98.

"I'm telling you, this is the most talented team I've been around since the Super Bowl years," defensive end Leonard Little said. "But that means a hill of beans if you don't go out there and execute, and do the things you need to do on the field.

"We haven't been executing like we should, and we've had a lot of mental breakdowns and stuff like that. That's been killing us in games."

Little has been slowed by an ankle problem, hindering a pass rush that has registered only one sack in the past two games. Archuleta is one of three starters in the secondary who will miss Sunday's game against the Houston Texans because of injuries.

And, oh by the way, the Rams will be without injured quarterback Marc Bulger (shoulder), who just happens to be the top-rated passer in the NFC at the moment.

"It's tough," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said. "I don't like it. I came into the year thinking that No. 10 (Bulger) had a chance to be MVP of the league.

"I believe that. Obviously, he's been hurt a couple times, and that's a killer to our team. You don't like to go in games without all your guns. We need him. But unfortunately he won't be there. So we're going to rally with who we've got. And if it takes everybody else to raise their game up, raise their level of responsibility up, put a little extra weight on their shoulders, that's what we'll do."

The Texans, who have the NFL's worst record at 1-9, certainly provide a golden opportunity for the Rams to end their two-game losing skid and feel better about themselves.

The Texans are just plain lousy on several fronts. They've given up the most sacks in the league (47) on offense. They haven't scored more than two offensive touchdowns in 15 consecutive games, and seven of their nine losses have been by 14 or more points.

Defensively, they rank last in the league in run defense. An opposing rusher has topped 100 yards against them on seven occasions this season. They are tied for last in takeaways, and only Cleveland's defense has fewer sacks than Houston's 14.

But in losing by 10 points - at home, no less - to hapless Arizona, the Rams showed they are capable of losing to anybody. The Cardinals, remember, were 2-7 coming into the Edward Jones Dome last week.

"Arizona was supposed to be this, or supposed to be that," Jackson said. "It's the NFL, man. . . . I don't care who you're playing against, you better come ready to play or you will lose."

Penalties, blocking miscues, missed tackles and coverage breakdowns continue to haunt St. Louis. And the Rams really don't need anyone to remind them that they're not getting it done. They know it - at least the veterans do.

"Anybody who really enjoys what they do and takes pride in it, when they're off, it bothers them," Jackson said. "So we're bothered right now. . . . But I don't need anybody to tell me that I played bad. I can look at the film and figure that out myself."

So what's the way out? Pride, preparation, intensity, and focus.

"We have got to prepare like this is the most important game we've ever played," interim head coach Joe Vitt said earlier in the week. "It is for me. And I'm trying to get that point across to our football team. We have to win this game. Somehow. Some way. We're hurt. We're depleted. We've got to go win a football game."