Although the Broncos have the league’s second-ranked overall defense, they have been susceptible to the ground game. Their rushing defense ranks 19th — surrendering 120.1 yards per game. Pacheco has rushed for more than 60 yards in each of his last four games, with touchdown runs in his previous two.
“I think he’s done a good job of progressing each and every week,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said of the rookie before Thursday’s practice. “Every week, he does something a little bit different. Obviously, what’s showing up on tape is he’s running extremely hard. He’s doing a heck of a job of moving the chains. We’ve just got to continue to build and grow with him.”
In addition to the coaching staff, Bieniemy gave credit to the Chiefs’ deep running backs room — including one player who has long-admired Pacheco.
“[Chiefs running backs coach] Greg Lewis is doing a great job with him,” Bieniemy acknowledged. “I’ll tell you what else is teaching him. Jerick McKinnon is doing a great job with him. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is doing a great job with him. [Fullback Michael] Burton is doing a great job with him.
“All those guys — they talk to each other. They have a great chemistry. They have a great working relationship together. So they’re helping him to improve on every aspect of his game. Is he taking heed? Yes he is. He’s listening. He’s going out there. He’s learning a lot on his own, as well — because you can only learn by experience.”
In his remarks Thursday, Pacheco also revealed what he is learning from running back Melvin Gordon, who joined the Chiefs’ practice squad in November.
Because of his running style, Bieniemy knows that simply having him on the field could reveal what plays may be called — meaning Pacheco must make the most of every carry.
“He’s just a physical football player — he’s a physical person,” the coach declared. “He has the right attitude and the right mindset to play the position because they know when he’s in the backfield, 85,000 — including the 11 on the other side of the ball — knows that he’s going to touch it. So you have to have that temperament to play physical and to play aggressive — and he has that.”
Pacheco’s first season appeared to have taken a disastrous turn in Kansas City’s Week 10 27-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. On the first Chiefs drive, Pacheco’s second carry ended with a lost fumble at the Jaguars’ 9-yard line. He responded by running strong for the remainder of the game, finishing with 82 yards on 16 carries.
“He takes coaching — he listens,” Bieniemy said of the runner’s response to adversity. “One thing in this industry — the only way you’re going to learn to improve is to go out there and make a mistake. Sometimes the best thing you can do is make a mistake.
“By him having his — quote on quote — failures when presented, he’s maximizing maybe the most of it because he’s learned what not to do. I think he’s a mature kid. He’s doing a great job right now. I don’t want to jinx it. Coach Lewis is making sure he’s staying fundamentally sound with all the details and all the aspects of the things that he needs to do on the field.”
As he works with his coaches, Pacheco aims to carve out a leadership role with the Chiefs — just as the Rutgers product has at previous stops.
“As a kid, my mom and my dad always taught me to be respectful — and be a leader,” he recalled. “For me, being a leader in high school elected as a captain as a freshman meant a lot. Then going to college and being a captain speaks for itself. For me, just carry over the same mindset and continue to be a leader on this team — it will definitely help us.”
Part of that leadership is evaluating himself in the film room and finding opportunities for improvement.
“Just taking those points from the game — details and points from the game where I felt as though I could have been better,” Pacheco said of his studies. “Where I could have chipped this guy or gotten to the flat better. Just taking the details and pinning them down upstairs in the meeting room and then when I come into practice, being able to execute it.”
His film work has also shown him reasons to take the 3-9 Broncos seriously.
“They cover ground — and they fly around,” he said of the defense he will face Sunday. “So we’ve got to be ready to roll from the start.”