CALGARY - Scoring early and often is tactically freeing, says Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson.
The Stampeders have put the ball in the end zone on their opening drive in four straight games.
They've scored at least 10 points in the opening quarter in six of their last seven. Calgary (13-1-1) has trailed after the first quarter just twice this entire season.
Scoring on a first possession isn't just energizing for the Stampeders and deflating for their opposition, it keeps options open.
"It's a lot easier to play with a lead on both sides of the ball," Dickenson said. "Defensively you can be a little bit more aggressive because if you give up something you know you already have a lead.
"Offensively, your whole playbook is available to you. Your run game is there, your play action game is there. When you're behind by quite a bit, it can shorten down what you can do on both sides of the ball.
"As a coach, if they can take what you're giving them and they can apply it on the field right away, you feel pretty good about your game plan."
A bright light in an otherwise rocky season for the Montreal Alouettes (4-10) is their defence, specifically against the pass.
They'll need it Saturday at McMahon Stadium. Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, his backs and receivers have been ruthlessly efficient on first drives lately.
"I feel like we've been pretty hot lately at the start as far as coming out there, first drive, a hot drive, getting a lot of yards, going out and scoring a touchdown and putting a two-point conversion up," Mitchell said.
Another early lead Saturday would likely limit time on the field for Mitchell and other Stampeder starters as the game's result doesn't impact Calgary's playoff position.
They already know they'll be the host team of the West Division final Nov. 20.
The Als are not out of playoff contention in a tight East Division race. They're two points back of the Toronto Argonauts (5-10) holding down third spot.
Montreal is 1-1 since general manager Jim Popp was stripped of head coaching duties and Jacques Chapdelaine promoted from the offensive coaching staff to replace him.
In four starts since veteran Kevin Glenn was traded to Winnipeg, Rakeem Cato has averaged 225 passing yards and thrown six touchdowns, but has been sacked 15 times.
The Alouettes were a loose and relaxed group during Friday's walkthrough at McMahon. Chapdelaine encourages it.
"We have to understand that playing with a sense of urgency does not mean you're going to be playing uptight," Chapdelaine said.
"A lot of people have discounted us a little bit. We do have a great situation in front of us. Every game is as meaningful as they're ever going to get. You don't have to do the math anymore. You just have to be free and play football."
Both teams are coming off a short week after Monday games. The Stampeders secured first in the West with a 48-20 win over Toronto, while the Als fell 40-20 to the Edmonton Eskimos.
The buzz around the Stampeders, unbeaten in 14 games, is can they become just the second team in CFL history to win 16 regular-season games in the 18-game era? A 16-1-1 record would be the best of the era.
"We're both playing for something," Montreal slotback Nik Lewis said. "When you've locked up first place, you tend to take your foot off the pedal, but they're playing for a legacy, for the greatest record in CFL history."
With 82 catches this season for a career 957, Lewis is nine back of Allen Pitts for fifth all-time in the CFL. Just over 800 of the 34-year-old's receptions came during his decade as a Stampeder.
Dickenson is a win away from the CFL record for wins by a rookie coach in one season. Adam Rita (1991), John Hufnagel (2008) and Mike Benevides (2012) each finished their respective seasons 13-5.