Sri Lanka's 75-run victory in the first test in Galle means England could lose their place at the top of the world rankings if they suffer a 2-0 whitewash in the series.
"You need to be a rocket scientist to work out where things have gone wrong," Strauss told reporters after his side were bowled out for 264 on the fourth day.
"We haven't put scores on the board and we are not going to win too many test matches if that's the case.
"I thought we showed in the second innings, technically and game-plan wise, there's a lot of skill in our dressing room against spin bowling.
"We just didn't apply ourselves in the right manner in the first innings," added Strauss, referring to their meagre total of 193.
England struggled to cope with spin when they lost 3-0 to Pakistan in their most recent series in the Gulf and the visitors were undone by the turning ball again in Galle as slow left-armer Rangana Herath picked up 12 wickets in the match.
"In the fourth innings you can understand the odd ball spitting and you'll get the odd dismissal but the first innings was no excuse and that is what is most frustrating," said Strauss who is himself desperately out of form with the bat.
The skipper singled out second-innings centurion Jonathan Trott (112) for praise.
"Everyone has got different game plans," said Strauss. "There's always a balance between attack and defence in test cricket and Jonathan was a good example of that.
"He put the bad balls away and a lot of the time he was patient enough to wait for that bad ball.
"A lot of the guys have got great pedigree with the bat and they will get another opportunity to prove it in next week's second test in Colombo."
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene was delighted with his team's win.
"It's a good challenge for us to go up against the world's number one team," said Jayawardene.
"We knew we would have to work really hard to get a result against them and the series will give us an idea where we are right now and where we need to improve.
"This is a good start for us, we just need to try and maintain it. The English batting lineup is top class and they were going to come hard at us," added Jayawardene.
"They had a few partnerships and we had to wait patiently. Once we got the new ball we knew we would create more opportunities and that's what we did.
"There were also a couple of really good catches to turn things around for us."