RBs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon providing balanced attack for Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The play that finally sealed Sunday's Kansas City Chiefs’ victory was classic Isiah Pacheco. The rookie running back took a handoff from Patrick Mahomes, made one small cut to his left, quickly made his way through a hole, ran over a couple of defenders and gained 10 yards and a first down that allowed the Chiefs to escape with a 34-28 win over the Denver Broncos.

“The thing that stood out about it was the two or three missed tackles that [the Broncos] ended up having because of his physical nature of attacking those guys,’’ offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “He has the right attitude and the right mindset to play the position because they know when he’s in the backfield, 85,000 people including the 11 on the other side of the ball know that he’s going to touch it. You have to have that temperament to play physically and to play aggressively and he has that.”

In Denver, Pacheco led the Chiefs in rushing for the fifth straight game with 70 yards. But he wasn’t even the most productive of the Chiefs’ backs that day.

Jerick McKinnon caught seven passes for 112 yards and scored two touchdowns. Production from the Chiefs' top two running backs this season has been an ongoing trend.

“It’s always good to have a number of guys that can run it,’’ Bieniemy said. “They just give you different looks. Each guy presents something different. Pacheco is more of a physical type of runner. Jerick is more of a jack of all trades.’’

The Chiefs practically stumbled across the combination of Pacheco and McKinnon earlier this season after benching former starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire and later losing him to the injured reserve list with a high ankle sprain.

The two backs have split the snaps almost equally the last four games and that rotation is unlikely to change.

“They do complement each other,’’ coach Andy Reid said. “Really two different types of game. You have good balance there.’’

The Chiefs benefited from the rotation the most on the final drive of the Denver game. The Chiefs got the ball back with more than four minutes left and a six-point lead, and desperately wanted to keep the ball away from a suddenly productive Broncos offense.

On seven of their eight plays, the ball was given to either McKinnon or Pacheco, not counting two Mahomes kneel-downs to end the game. Three of those plays delivered a first down, the last being Pacheco’s 10-yard gain after the Broncos had exhausted their three timeouts.

In typical Pacheco fashion, he got up off the ground quickly after being tackled and celebrated by high-stepping toward the Denver end zone.

That type of exuberance is one reason the Chiefs drafted Pacheco in the seventh round. He demonstrated a physical running style at Rutgers and ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.

What really got the attention of running backs coach Greg Lewis was the meeting the Chiefs had with Pacheco at the combine.

“He brought that same kind of enthusiasm and energy and juice to our little meeting,’’ Lewis said. “From that moment, that was the guy I wanted to help us move forward.’’

While Pacheco leads the Chiefs with 591 rushing yards, McKinnon plays a big role in obvious passing situations and is third on the team with 38 catches, behind only Travis Kelce and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

McKinnon has carved out a significant role as a receiver since he arrived in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He was a quarterback at Georgia Southern and though he played in an option system, he said playing the position helped him understand passing concepts. He's on the small side for a back at 5-foot-9 and 209 pounds, but the Chiefs also trust him as a pass-blocker for Mahomes, a skill he hadn't developed prior to playing in the NFL.

“It first started when I came out for the draft at the Senior Bowl,’’ McKinnon said. “I didn’t know what pass protection was. I’m not going to lie to you. I had never done it. I had never traditionally played running back. After taking some Ls in the Senior Bowl one-on-ones and getting into the league and being a rookie and going through one-on-ones and trying to understand pass pro calls and going through that whole learning curve and physically messing up and getting yelled at . . .

“It’s definitely something I work at day in and day out. I take pride in it. I’m little so I’ve got little man’s syndrome when it comes to stuff like that.’’

McKinnon is frequently in the lineup on first and second downs, as well. Generally, though, Pacheco is the runner and McKinnon the receiver, an arrangement that is working well for the Chiefs.

“Whenever my number’s called, I’m ready to roll,’’ Pacheco said. “Doesn’t matter where we’re at on the field. As long as we’re on the same page, and we’re all on the same mission, we can get the goal accomplished.”