The Seattle Seahawks know all about Frank Gore. Perhaps more than they would like.
Looking at his career splits against the division foe from the Pacific Northwest, Gore has had more success against them than any team in his seven-plus NFL seasons. The 49ers rushing king has averaged 89.9 yards per game against the Seahawks, by far the highest average against any NFC West opponent, while Seattle is the only team Gore has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark against (1,079).
But the Seahawks enter Thursday's contest with arguably the toughest run defense they've ever had during Gore's career, as they've given up just 70 yards per game, the second-lowest average in the league.
"Seattle, they're playing great ball," Gore said. "We want to be the top dog in the division and we know that they're going to come in here and play their behind off. As long as we get back to being us – offense, defense, special teams – we should come out on top."
The NFC West has emerged as the league's most dominant defensive division through six weeks of play. Chicago leads the league in scoring defense (14.2 points per game), but the top five is rounded out by Seattle (15.5), San Francisco (15.7), Arizona (16.2) and St. Louis (18.5).
The improved defenses have also translated into better records. The 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals are all tied in first place with their 4-2 records, while the Rams are 3-3. At .625, the NFC West has the highest collective winning percentage of any division in the NFL.
"Everybody in our division got better," Gore said. "We're all right with that. We like it like that, we like it tough. We're tough enough to handle it."
And as much as he appreciates good defense, Vic Fangio isn't necessarily a fan of the other NFC West teams' success.
"I wish they weren't as good as they are," the 49ers defensive coordinator said.
Personnel-wise, the Seattle defense is relatively the same as it was last year. Big Red Bryant (6-foot-4, 323 pounds) is a force at defensive tackle, while Chris Clemons (5.5 sacks) and Brandon Mebane (2.0 sacks) are also main contributors. But perhaps the biggest addition to the group is first-round pick Bruce Irvin, who has 4.5 sacks and established himself as an impact player in his rookie season.
Given all of the team's pass-rushing options, Gore will have to be sound in his pass protection when he's not running the ball.
"They're a fast defense," Gore said. "They move around, they show a lot of different stuff. We got to be ready for it."
It starts up front for Seattle, but they are also loaded with talent in their secondary. Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor form one of the league's most imposing safety duos, while Brandon Browner (6-foot-4) and Richard Sherman (6-foot-3) are among the NFL's tallest and most athletic cornerbacks.
The 49ers are well-aware of what Sherman can do. Coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman coached Sherman at both receiver and cornerback throughout his career at Stanford. Roman said he's been "real happy" with Sherman's development at the NFL level, but won't be wishing him any more success on Thursday.
"They've got a good defense obviously, very productive," Roman said. "The secondary, the two safeties are very good players, corners are doing a great job out there and it's allowing the front seven to fly around. So, personnel is very similar and another year. They appear to be even more cohesive than they were last year."
The past two performances for the 49ers offense couldn't be more different.
Two weeks ago, they carved up the Buffalo defense in a 45-3 win, setting a franchise record with 621 yards from scrimmage, also becoming the first team in NFL history to gain at least 300 yards on the ground (311) and through the air (310) in the same game. Then came last week's 26-3 loss to the New York Giants, when the 49ers turned the ball over three times and had trouble getting anything going after the first quarter.
Roman didn't shy away from the offensive shortcomings in Week 6, taking accountability for the sub-par output against the reigning Super Bowl champions.
"I think the responsibility of the offense falls at my feet and when we don't produce enough, that falls on me," Roman said. "Obviously, we need a better plan, we need to coach the plan better. We need to execute the plan better, but step one is, let's have a better plan. That falls at my feet. I wish last week I would have done a better job of giving the players an opportunity to be successful."
Despite the night and day results of the last two contests, Roman sounds confident in his team's ability to prepare on a short week.
"Every game is different, every week is different, every opponent is different, you match up different," Roman said. "So, we just move forward one day at a time. Take it one day at a time and try to get better each day."