Mike Shanahan (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Coach Mike Shanahan said Thursday it’s time for the Washington Redskins’ veteran players on defense to “step up or shut up” to produce a second-half turnaround by the unit and improve the team’s fortunes.

“This is where normally football teams are taken over by their veterans,” Shanahan said in response to a question about whether he has seen a team’s defense pull things together after struggling for half a season. “You can go one direction or the other. You expect these guys to play at a higher level, even with some inexperienced guys. You expect them to get the most out of these other players that may not have played at the highest level they can. It’s either step up or shut up. And this is where you’ve got to get it done.”

Shanahan said he’s also hopeful the team’s younger players on defense can improve with the experience they’ve gotten.

“You get some more playing time,” Shanahan said. “You feel more comfortable with the system. You’re able to do a few more things from a coaching standpoint with some guys that you weren’t able to do in the beginning because they didn’t have that experience. And you just start playing better. Maybe it’s game plans. Maybe one or two guys coming back, playing at a different level for a little bit higher standard. It’s your veterans playing their best football, knowing that they have to play their best football in the second half of the season.”

The Redskins have a 3-5 record at the season’s midway point, and earlier this week Shanahan called Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers a must-win game if the team wants to make a second-half run at a playoff spot.

Shanahan was asked Thursday to assess where the Redskins are midway through the season.

“We can break it down,” he said. “Obviously defensively, when you take a look at the stats, [they’re] probably not anywhere near where they were a year ago. But the good part about it is, a lot of these guys—our safeties are getting more playing time, our defensive ends, our outside linebackers are getting more playing time. We’ve got to get better and start playing our best football. So some of those inexperienced guys are more experienced now because they’ve had some playing time. Hopefully we can start playing our best football on defense because they’ve got some more experience.

“Offensively if you told me before the season we had the ability to do some of the things we’re doing with a young football team, I would say that doesn’t happen very often in the National Football League unless your defense is number one or in the top three or four,” Shanahan said. “It just doesn’t happen. It just says a lot about the guys we do have on our football team right now. And special teams, I think at times… we’ve played well. At times we’ve been a little bit inconsistent. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to start playing our best football and find a way to win those games in the fourth quarter that we haven’t done.”

 — D.C. Sports Bog: Schefter says Redskins best positioned in the NFC East