Leading into their final game before the bye week in Week 7, the Kansas City Chiefs made national headlines when they decided to make a change to their “starting” running back, going with rookie seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco over veterans Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon.
Isiah Pacheco took the first-team reps in practice this week and is expected to be the starter at running back in Sunday’s game vs. the 49ers, sources say,” wrote NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport. “Pacheco will replace former first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire , who will still have a key role on offense. Kansas City often rotates backs, and both are expected to see significant snaps.”
Looking back at the numbers from Kansas City’s 44-23 win, Rapoport’s note was sort of the case. Pacheco earned the first carry and led the team with eight carries, but McKinnon had the same number of touches (six carries, two receptions). And though Pacheco had his season-high in snaps (18) as Edwards-Helaire had his season-low (17), it was McKinnon who took the bulk of the running back snaps (23) as the team’s best pass protector.
Pacheco may have been promoted to the team’s “starter,” sure — but (as noted here) Kansas City’s running back-by-committee remained alive and well.
“All those guys are going to play, and at the end of the day, we’re counting on all those guys (Pacheco, Edwards-Helaire and McKinnon) to contribute,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieninemy said of the change. “We have a number of discussions that we have [had] behind closed doors that I’m not going to disclose — but everybody has an important role, so we’re counting on all those guys to do their part. So it doesn’t make a difference on who starts the game or who finishes the game.”
Offensive line coach Andy Heck — who plays a significant role in establishing the Chiefs’ running game — was a bit more forthcoming in explaining why the club decided to move forward with Pacheco, who finished the game against the San Francisco 49ers with eight carries and 43 yards as part of 39 carries for 192 yards (4.9 yards-per-attempt) on the season.
“I like what I’m seeing there,” described Heck. “I’m seeing what you all are seeing. He’s a strong, violent runner with good speed, good vision, so all the things you look for in a runner. It does take time for all of us O-line... to get a hang of these different angles. We do a lot of different things when you talk about our run game.
“So we’re asking these guys to learn a lot of specific sort of angles, and then you multiply that... exponentially, against the defenses you’re seeing it. It takes some time to work together here, but I love what Pacheco’s doing. He’s growing fast — that whole room, really — and I think that they all work together really well.”
Much like the Chiefs having to find a new identity in the passing game, it has taken some time to establish that in the running game, too. The latest effort to do that was by turning to Pacheco — the 23-year-old, day-three selection out of Rutgers.
On draft weekend, Pacheco — who’s become a bit more mild-mannered since then — said that he was coming to Kansas City with the intention to “take another grown man’s job.”
Now, he has done just that. But the Chiefs still insist that every back will continue to see touches.
“When they’re in there, we want them to contribute,” added Bieniemy. “It’s not about the numbers. OK? It’s about the alphabets. And the only [letter] that matters is the ‘W.’ So, whatever we need to do to put our guys in position to be the best that they can possibly be, so we can accomplish the goal.
“And just like I said — we know the goal is to get that alphabet.”