In the first 14 games of the Bears 2015 season, the team ran 906 offensive plays. Running backs Ka'Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford were both on the field for exactly one of those snaps: A first-and-goal play in the second quarter of Chicago's Week 10 game at St. Louis. On that play, quarterback Jay Cutler faked a handoff to Langford and threw a 2-yard touchdown to tight end Zach Miller.
In the second quarter of Sunday afternoon's contest in Tampa, in game 15 of the season, the Bears used Carey and Langford simultaneously once again. Facing a first-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 1-yard line following a pass interference penalty, Chicago lined up in an I-formation behind Cutler. Directly behind the quarterback was Carey, the second-year running back. In the deep-I was Langford, the rookie back who leads the Bears with six rushing scores this season. Cutler handed to Carey, who sprinted through the line. The touchdown was the first points of the day for the Bears, who eventually went on to a 26-21 victory over the Buccaneers.
Running Back Ka'Deem Carey scores a 1-yard touchdown
The use of the new formation, and the team's impressive depth at running back, were keys on a day the Bears were without some of their top offensive skill talent.
"Just getting some more dynamic playmakers back there, be able to give it to the first guy, the deep guy," Cutler said of the offense featuring both Carey and Langford. "We had a play action to Ka'Deem that came off of it, so the more dynamic guys you have on the field, the better, so that's just kind of what we're trying to do."
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, the Bears faced an identical situation and were able to use the play-action throw they'd set up earlier. Chicago again lined up in the two-back formation from the Bucs 1-yard line. To show a different wrinkle to their opponent, Chicago placed Langford deep and Carey at the traditional fullback spot. Cutler faked the handoff to Langford as Carey slipped out into the left flat. The Bears quarterback floated a soft pass in his direction for an easy 1-yard touchdown pass, marking the first receiving touchdown of Carey's career.
Three plays this season with Carey and Langford in the game. The result? Three touchdowns.
Using both running backs at the same time was strategy the Bears implemented to combat with offensive injuries. Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Marquees Wilson, along with tight end Martellus Bennett, all were out for Sunday's game because of various ailments. That meant a shift in offensive philosophy, with an extra burden placed on the running game. And when starting running back Kyle Long took a hard hit to his back midway through the third quarter, it left just the two young runners to lead the way for the Chicago attack.
"We can't afford to think about what back is in and what their style is," said left guard Matt Slauson. "We're just going to block the way we block and they're running with their heads down and they're trying to find contact and that's great."
Langford finished the win with 83 rushing yards on 19 carries, while Forte had 54 yards on 11 attempts before exiting in the second half with a back injury. Carey only ran the ball seven times for 16 yards, but he was big in the fourth quarter when Forte was out. On a 10-play drive that took more than five minutes off the clock, Carey had 15 of his rushing yards, helping seal the victory.
Chicago had 174 rushing yards against the Buccaneers, the highest total in a game for the team since running for 189 yards in Week 1 versus Green Bay. The 37:03 the Bears controlled the ball was the second-most in a game this year for the team.
The strong performance from the Bears three-headed rushing attack was a testament to the Chicago coaching staff, which managed the healthy skill-position talent in the best way possible by utilizing rarely seen formations that caught the Buccaneers off guard. It was also a positive for the backs themselves, who carried the load - literally - when called upon in Tampa. With the 2015 season coming to a close next Sunday, the signs are encouraging moving forward that the Bears have several running backs who can be counted on to deliver when called upon.
"We definitely showed that three backs is definitely better than one," Carey said. "Everybody did their job and we got the win."