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Isiah Pacheco is embracing a larger role in the Chiefs’ offense

In a one-on-one interview, Kansas City’s starting running back talked about being a three-down player.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Little Caesars is the official pizza sponsor of the NFL — and thanks to them, I was fortunate to get a few minutes with Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Isiah Pacheco over Zoom.

Pacheco is representing Little Caesars and their Pizza! Pizza! Pregame. It’s a program that gives fans a chance to win tickets to Super Bowl LVIII. All you have to do is order Little Caesars pizza online starting one hour before NFL kickoffs on Thursdays or Mondays — or all day on Sundays.

Pacheco’s favorite thing to do while eating Little Caesars pizza shouldn’t be surprising to any Chiefs fan.

“I love to do my happy dance while I’m eating pizza,” he said. “I’m always happy eating. There’s just something about it.”

This season, Pacheco’s role in the Chiefs’ offense has grown. After becoming the team’s lead running back as a rookie, Pacheco is taking up an even bigger chunk of the backfield’s snaps and handoffs this year. He currently ranks seventh in NFL rushing attempts.

That hasn’t happened simply because Pacheco is carrying the ball well — and the second-year back recognizes that.

“The coaches trust me,” he told me, “and I have to keep doing what I have to do to help the team win. As a running back, you always have to help protect the quarterback; you’re the last line of the defense for the offensive line. When they send a six-man pressure, I have to be the last line of the defense. For Patrick [Mahomes], you have to be prepared.”

As a rookie, Pacheco got used to seeing veteran Jerick McKinnon come in on third downs or other obvious passing downs. This year, that isn’t happening as often — and Pacheco is embracing the added responsibilities.

“Being able to compete on all downs is something I’ve always wanted to do — and contribute to,” he shared. “I’m just trying to be available for Pat. If there’s a busted play, I’m trying to find open space to get the ball and make something happen.”

That has translated to success for Pacheco as a receiver. He now ranks fifth on the team in receiving yards, leading players like wide receiver Skyy Moore and tight end Noah Gray.

Chicago Bears v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

But Pacheco might be best-known for his aggressive, downhill running style — which is something that he has to limit when running many of the plays in a typical Kansas City game plan. The team calls many zone-blocking runs that require patience. Pacheco has notably improved that aspect of his play — but when a down-blocking run is called, his ears still perk up.

“I love it,” Pacheco smiled. “I love all the plays — but there’s something about those that you get a little bit more. The offensive linemen are competing more in those tight gaps. You just have to understand the scheme — and trust it — [while] trusting the offensive line.”

That trust doesn’t develop overnight — or even over a month. But with Week 8 on the horizon, Pacheco feels the chemistry strengthening.

“We’re kind of getting in that middle of the season where we’re getting more comfortable with one another — and understanding,” he observed.

Pacheco’s circle of trust includes right guard Trey Smith, who sprung him on his 48-yard touchdown run against the New York Jets. Out of all the Kansas City offensive linemen, Smith tends to accumulate the most highlight-reel appearances for pancake blocks like that one.

Smith clearly enjoys doing them — but I had to ask Pacheco what Smith prefers most: kicking out an edge defender on a counter run or pulling to the second level on a power run.

“I feel like he loves that counter,” replied Pacheco. “If you have a corner crashing in on that edge? Whoooo! That corner? I feel bad for him.”

For the record, I agree. My favorite Kansas City running play is a counter to the left, because it puts Smith in a position to fly out of his stance and lay out a defender. It’s no surprise to hear Smith enjoys doing it as much as I enjoy watching it.

And just like has to work with a blocker on that kind of play, Pacheco also understands the importance of strengthening his off-the-field relationships with the offensive linemen. He likened it to being a little brother — one who relies upon five older, bigger siblings.

It’s all a part of evolving into a workhorse back. And so far, Pacheco has demonstrated the right mentality — both on and off the field — to succeed in his expanded role.

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