After a nightmare start to the game, Chiefs’ rookie running back Isiah Pacheco rallied to give his team a spark as he turned in his best performance of the season.
The first-noon kickoff in Kansas City for quite some time got off to a slow start, as the Chiefs sleepwalked their way into some avoidable early game mistakes. Isiah Pacheco put the exclamation point on the early game struggles by fumbling inside the red zone on a drive destined for points.
The fumble gave the Jaguars life, and I fully expected the Chiefs to go with either Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Jerrick McKinnon. Despite the mistake, Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy had no intention of taking Pacheco out of the game, and on his first carry after the turnover, he showed off why he had the Kindom buzzing during the preseason.
Pacheco set career highs for rushing yards with 82 as well as rush attempts with 16. He averaged 5.1 productive yards per run and was a great compliment to the Chiefs high powered passing attack. The Jaguars played a lot of light boxes and keep distance between their defensive line to help with the pass rush, but this played perfectly into the Chiefs’ mid-zone run scheme.
As its name is entitled midzone is somewhere between the inside zone and outside zone. The Tackles are not reach blocking and basing their man to the best of their ability, but the guards and center must get push on more of a 45-degree angle as opposed to reaching down the line or driving their men straight up the field. This is to take advantage of the light boxes with just a few linebackers in the box, it helps create angles to make blocks, but also opens up cut lanes both at the line of scrimmage and at the second level.
So far into his career, Pacheco has been a one-hit-wonder. I don’t mean that in a bad way either, but he typically has taken the first glimpse of daylight that he has seen and tried to hit the hole as hard and fast as possible. It has had varying results, but his vision inside the tackles has been lacking. This week it was refreshing to see him let plays develop, but also set up defenders for his blockers with well-timed cuts and acceleration that put them in good spots to win plays.
The Chiefs still gave Pacheco a chance to blast through a hole, with a well-timed, and well-executed counter. Great double-team blocks and great blocks from Thuney and Gray open up a big hole for Pacheco to operate through. If not for a fast-filling safety this play would have had a chance to go for six.
So what are the lessons to be learned from this performance by Pacheco?
He is Learning the Offense
For starters, he has shown visible improvement in his ability to read the way that blocks are being set up. This has likely come due to hours of film study and learning even more about how the Chiefs system operates and picking up on little details of the game plan week to week.
He is learning to be more than a one-hit and run back, he is starting to show off the cutting ability that he displayed at Rutgers.
He has a Ton of Confidence in his Ability and the Chiefs do too
As a rookie running back Pacheco has been subject to the attention of many teams trying to punch and strip the ball away from him at all times. This week the Jaguars succeeded, but instead of letting it bother him Pacheco used a next-play mentality to fuel his performance.
He runs with aggression and plays the game with passion, which is what makes him a great fit for the Chiefs. Kansas City thinks highly of him, as Brett Veach, Reid, and Bieniemy have alluded to having him be an important part of the long-term plans in Kansas City. After the fumble, there was no hesitation from the staff to send him back out there to carry the load for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs’ Ability to Run the Ball kept Jacksonville Off-Balance
The Jaguars were set to sell out to stop Mahomes and the passing attack from the Chiefs, but the running game provided the Chiefs with some added push and helped to keep the Jaguars honest.
Pacheco was at the forefront of this and could work his way into the secondary with his runs, forcing safeties and corners to make stops on him. It also allowed for the Chiefs’ offensive line to show off their ability to run blocking and helped them not get into obvious and predictable passing situations which would favor the pass rush.
The Chiefs’ Back By Committee Has a New Rotation
With 35 snaps Pacheco leads the way for all backs this week, followed by Mckinnon with 24, and Edwards-Helaire with four. The Chiefs had named him the starter a few weeks ago, but this was the first time he got starter touches and starter reps.
If this trend continues for the Chiefs then it is quite possible the Chiefs view Pacheco as their back of the future, and could potentially look to move on from McKinnon and Helaire this offseason. The screen game, and ability to catch out of the backfield is not something we have seen much from Pacheco this year, but if he is to completely take over reps it will be something we could see more of soon.